NEW YORK, NY (WPIX)—Just five days after being shot in the brain at close range, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords passes a new milestone of recovery, and two people from the Tri-State area there to witness it call it nothing short of miraculous.
"She was holding my hand at the time," New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand said in an interview. "She was squeezing it, and even stroking it. She was absolute(ly able) to hear everything we were saying," the 44 year-old senator from upstate said in talking about an improvement in her close friend's condition even more significant than Giffords's acknowledging her friend's presence through her hand movements.
In the Tucson, Arizona hospital room with Giffords on Wednesday afternoon were two other Democratic congresswomen who are close friends of hers, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Giffords's husband, astronaut and West Orange, New Jersey native Mark Kelly, was also at her bedside, where he has been for days.
"All of a sudden, she started to struggle to open her eyes," Sen. Gillibrand said. "And so Mark saw that and said, 'Open your eyes, Gabby. Open your eyes.' And she kept struggling and struggling, and Mark just kept encouraging her. And within a moment, she literally opened her eyes. And the doctor was unbelievably excited because this was such great progress. It was something that we couldn't imagine that we would have witnessed. She took a few moments to try to focus. You could see that she was focusing. And then Mark said, 'Gabby, if you can see me, if you can see me, give us a thumbs up, give us a thumbs up.' And she didn't only just give the thumbs up. She literally raised her entire hand. And we were just, we couldn't stop crying.
It was a moment that Senator Gillibrand called extraordinary. Five days earlier, at a public event at a Tucson shopping center, Giffords and 19 other people were shot by 22 year old Jared Loughner. The attack left six people dead and 13 people injured, including Giffords, whose condition is officially listed as critical.
Laughner remains in federal custody , where he faces charges that could result in his being sentenced to death if he is found guilty.
The first news of this dramatic improvement in Giffords's health came from a very prominent source: President Barack Obama. "Her husband, Mark, is here, and he allows me to share this with you," the commander-in-chief said to a packed auditorium at a memorial service for the shooting victims at the University of Arizona Wednesday evening. "Gabby opened her eyes for the first time," he said, while the audience broke out into raucous applause. Obama repeated the statement four times while the applause turned into a standing ovation and the congresswoman's husband hugged First Lady Michelle Obama.
Then, the president added, "So I can tell you, she knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. We are there for her," President Obama said, while Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, stood applauding in the front row along with the rest of the audience, which was on its feet.