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Critically injured Congresswoman can communicate, say doctors

Last updated on: January 10, 2011 09:32 IST

US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically injured after she was shot in her head at a close range by an assailant in Arizona, was able to communicate with doctors by following simple commands, physicians attending on her said.
 
"We are very encouraged by that. I am cautiously optimistic," Dr Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.
 
Doctors had to undertake an emergency brain surgery and her condition remained critical, they said. The 40-year-old lawmaker was shot at the back of her head at a public event at a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona by an assailant who killed at least six persons including a nine-year-old girl and a federal district judge, John Roll, besides injuring 18 others.
 
The number of the injured might increase to 20.
 
Doctors said Giffords was lucky to be alive but would not speculate about the degree of her recovery, which they said could take months or longer. "Overall this is about as good as it's going to get," said Dr Peter Rhee, the chief of trauma surgery at University Medical Center, where she was being treated.
 
"When you get shot in the head and a bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living are very small and the chances of you waking up and actually following commands is even much smaller than that," he said.
 
Giffords, who was in surgery within 38 minutes of arriving at University Medical Center with a gunshot "devastating wound" to the head, required the removal of half her skull, doctors said at a news conference. Giffords is sedated and remains in critical condition, though she is responding to simple commands, they said, adding that she is in a medically-induced coma and called her medical condition "very precarious."
 
The Arizona Democrat was shot on the left side of the head and the bullet traveled from the back to the front, said Dr Lemole, one of the neurosurgeons who operated on Giffords. The left side of the brain controls speech and right side strength on most people. Giffords remained on a ventilator.
 
While doctors said Giffords was responsive but they were cautious of overstating her condition, saying several times

she was in critical condition.Surgeons worked to reduce pressure from swelling in the brain by removing bone fragments, Dr Lemole said.
 
Dr Peter M Rhee said he expects to have a better idea about Giffords' prognosis in the next few days.
 
US President Barack Obama, who on Saturday had dispatched FBI Director Robert Mueller to Arizona to help coordinate the investigation, called on Americans to observe a moment of silence today to honour the innocent victims of the tragedy in Tucson, Arizona.
President Obama, also, signed a proclamation calling for flags to be flown at half-mast.
 
Arizona's district attorney announced five charges, including murder and attempted murder, against Jared Lee Loughner accused of shooting nearly 20 people, including the Congresswoman. Loughner was arrested by the police from the crime
site on Saturday.
 
Eyewitness described him as a young white man who looked like a "fringe character," in his mid-to-late 20s, clean-shaven with short hair and wearing dark clothing. Pentagon had denied news reports that he ever served in Army. He attempted to enlist in the Army but was rejected for service, the US Army said in a statement. The reasons for his rejection were not divulged.
 
Loughner, 22, shot Giffords with a semi-automatic weapon at point blank in her head.
 
Immediately thereafter he attempted to flee but was overpowered by her staff and others present at the function. Investigative authorities said they are looking for other individuals too involved in the shootout.
CNN said authorities were questioning a second person yesterday in connection with the case, according to a law enforcement source. It was unclear what connection the person may have to the case and unknown whether it was the same man seen in a surveillance photo released by investigators Sunday morning. Police said the man, between 40 and 50 years old, was "possibly associated with the suspect," CNN reported.

The dark-haired man was spotted "in proximity" to the suspect at the location where the shooting occurred. Authorities were interviewing witnesses to determine whether there was a connection between the man and Loughner, the news channel said.

Lalit K Jha and Seema Hakhu Kachru in Washington/Houston
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