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Year after Tuscon shooting, Giffords still recovering from injuries

Friday, January 06, 2012

Sunday marks a tragic anniversary; it's been a year since the Tucson shootings that killed six people and injured 13, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

The Houston doctor who has been leading her rehabilitation team for the past year says that he thinks Giffords will continue to improve.

In the past year, Giffords learned to walk by doing strengthening and balancing exercises. She threw a ball to a dog and said fetch; animal therapy was the clever way they got her to use her arm and speak at the same time.

"I thought it was very effective at a certain point in her recovery. Forget about the fact she was smiling ear to ear when we brought the dog to her room," said Dr. Gerard Francisco with The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research.

Giffords had lots of doctors, but the brain rehabilitation specialists working to maximize her recovery are called physiatrists.

"People in my speciality are the ones who add quality to the lives that were saved," Dr. Francisco said.

Dr. Francisco lead Giffords' team of therapists who made game plans that would change as she'd reach a milestone.

Maegen Morrow worked with Giffords doing neurologic music therapy. Now she works with Earle Powdell, a NASA scientist who is learning to talk after a stroke. Ironically, he helped train Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly.

Whether brain injury is caused by a stroke or a gunshot, Dr. Francisco says the right therapy can help people improve.

"Sometimes our patients are not receiving the type of therapy they n need because they don't have any funding," he said.

Insurance generally pays for a month or less, but he says if people can stay longer, they do better. Giffords spent five months at the facility, but Dr. Francisco says he expects her to make progress even years from now.

"I'm confident that we are going to see more improvement in the years to come," Dr. Francisco said.

Dr. Francisco testified before a congressional committee earlier this year about the need to provide this kind of intensive neuro-rehabilitation to everyone with a brain injury.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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