South Florida Sun-Sentinel article: Wasserman Schultz: Giffords’ recovery ‘nothing short of a miracle’

By William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau
11:20 PM CST, January 13, 2011
WASHINGTON

Her voice still shaking with emotion, Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Thursday that friendship and “a little bit of girl power” seemed to help fellow Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords open her eyes and begin an amazingly quick recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.
Wasserman Schultz, who flew to Giffords’ hospital bedside in Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday, had no expectation that she would witness her friend’s first signs of consciousness so soon after being shot in an assault at a meet-and-greet event Saturday. Six people were killed and 13 others were wounded.

The two women, both young Jewish Democrats, had formed a strong bond even before Giffords won a congressional seat in Arizona in 2006. Their families have vacationed together in New Hampshire, and they have exchanged visits to South Florida and Arizona.

“We were just thrilled to be by her side,” Wasserman Schultz recalled of her visit to the hospital Wednesday night, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “And we were prepared to do and say anything — if she could hear us — to provide comfort and encouragement.”

Giffords lay in her hospital bed with her eyes closed, swathed in bandages. With her was her husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. The three women gathered around her, Wasserman Schultz recalled in an interview.

“We were taking turns holding her hand. And I said to her, ‘Gabby, you’ve got to get up and get better so we can go back to New Hampshire this summer. We’re fully expecting you to be there.’

“Right when I said that, she started to open her eyes. Just slits at first. Then they closed again. Her husband Mark, when he saw her eyes open, said, ‘Honey, if you can see me, give me the thumbs up.’ She didn’t do it that time.

“He kept encouraging her. ‘Open your eyes. Touch my ring.’ She opened her eyes a little more. It looked like she was just trying so hard to respond. Mark said, ‘Gabby, if you can see me, give me the thumbs up.’ And her arm flew up into the air. Oh my God, we were just overcome with emotion.

“In a million years, I never thought we would be able to help our friend take a big step on the road back to her family and friends and her constituents. It is nothing short of a miracle.”

Amazed at the sudden signs of recovery, neurosurgeon Michael Lemole told reporters in Tucson on Thursday that Giffords has made swift progress since the hospital visit.

“She was surrounded by her friends from the Congress and Senate, and I think it was a combination perhaps of the unexpected and the familiar that really prompted her to open her eyes and look around,” Lemole said.

Giffords rubs her eyes and tries to focus, doctors said. She receives physical therapy, which includes dangling her legs from her bed while propped up by nurses. The next milestone is to remove her breathing tube.

Wasserman Schultz, who attended Wednesday night’s memorial service at the University of Arizona for those killed in the shooting, said she would answer President Barack Obama’s call to use the tragedy as a rallying point to discourage violence and bring a civil tone to political discourse.

“I know that I am going to lead by example and encourage my colleagues to do the same,” said Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, who is known as an aggressive — and sometimes biting — campaigner for Democratic causes.

“If we start with ourselves,” she said, “then perhaps we can pressure the shock jocks and others who use unacceptable imagery and language to take a page from our book.”

Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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