Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes for the first time since Saturday’s shooting, and is making “fantastic forward progress,” her doctors said on Thursday.
President Obama first mentioned the development in Giffords’s condition at a Wednesday memorial service, telling the Tucson, Ariz. crowd that “right after we [Michelle and Barack Obama] went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues in Congress were in the room, [Giffords] opened her eyes for the first time.”
Giffords’s medical team at the University Medical Center confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the Congresswoman indeed opened her eyes.
“As you heard from the President yesterday, it is true, she did have spontaneous eye opening yesterday and she’s becoming more and more alert at this time,” Dr. Peter Rhee told reporters in a statement.
The Democratic member of Congress remains in critical condition at the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) along with four other injured patients from Giffords’s attempted assassination at a grocery store parking lot.
Of all the shooting victims still at University Medical Center, “everybody is making fantastic forward progress,” Rhee said.
Doctors said the eye movement was an substantial step toward Giffords’s recovery.
“That’s important from a scientific or neurosurgical perspective, because it implies that not just those parts of the brain that process commands are there, but the parts of the brain that let us awake from sleeping, our arousal center, those are starting to work spontaneously,” neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lemole said.
Lemole added that she is beginning "to to become aware of her surroundings and the appropriate context of family and friends," an important step in moving forward.
Dr. Vivek Deshmukh, director of cerebrovascular neurosurgery at the Providence Brain Institute in Portland, Oregon, told the Washington Post that the timing of Giffords opening her eyes was a good sign and sees a positive prognosis for the Congresswoman.
"It's very significant," told the Post. "In someone like her, who in just a few days after injury is opening her eyes and following commands, it is a much better prognostic indicator of recovery. It's less meaningful when it happens three or six months later."
Two of Giffords’s colleagues and friends, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, were with the Congresswomen at the time when she first opened her eyes, and called the moment miraculous.
"It felt like we were watching a miracle," Rep. Wasserman Schultz said, according to The Associated Press. "The strength that you could see flowing out of her, it was like she was trying to will her eyes open."
"The doctor said this is amazing what she's doing right now and beyond our greatest hopes," the AP quoted Sen. Gillibrand as saying.