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Doctors Say Giffords ‘Holding Her Own’ And Can Take Breaths Unaided

Doctors taking care of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords say her condition is essentially unchanged, which is a hopeful sign.

Dr. Michael Lemole, chief neurosurgeon at University Medical Center, speaks about the improved condition of the shooting victims on January 10, 2011 in Tuscon, Arizona. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who is in a medically-induced coma at the hospital, remains in critical condition but surgeons are optimistic about her prospects of recovery.
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Above: Dr. Michael Lemole, chief neurosurgeon at University Medical Center, speaks about the improved condition of the shooting victims on January 10, 2011 in Tuscon, Arizona. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who is in a medically-induced coma at the hospital, remains in critical condition but surgeons are optimistic about her prospects of recovery.

"I'm happy to tell you she's holding her own," neurosurgeon G. Michael Lemole said in a press conference Tuesday from University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Although Giffords has shown she can take her own breaths, Lemole said the doctors have left a breathing tube and respirator in place to protect her airways and minimize risks from complications such as pneumonia.

Her sedation is lighter than before. She is able to respond to simple commands. And as the sedation is lifted, it will allow doctors to assess her memory and thought processes.

Lemole was upbeat about Giffords' prospects, though he cautioned that the course of her recovery remains fraught with uncertainty. "She has no right to look this good, but she does," he said. "We have to play this according to her timeline not ours."

Dr. Peter Rhee, the chief of trauma care at UMC, said he had requested consultations from top military experts in battlefield injuries, because "the resources of the entire military have been made available to us." One reason, he said, is because Rep. Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, is an active duty Navy officer and astronaut.

The doctors, retired Army Col. James Ecklund and Col. Geoffrey Ling, appeared at the press conference and confirmed the optimistic picture given by the UMC physicians and said she’s getting the best care.

"This is indeed a very serious injury," said Ling, a prominent expert in care for brain trauma. "She is critically ill. The good news is that she is thriving under the very good, excellent care."

There is still some uncertainty about the trajectory of the bullet. Ling said it entered the front and exited the back, contrary to earlier explanations. Responding to a question, Rhee said it wasn't possible to be sure about that. "We always want to be nebulous about that," Rhee said. “But we do think from the expertise they’re giving to us, it probably went in from the front and went out the back."

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