What's Really Going on with Gabby Giffords?
Boyer, Peter J., Newsweek
Byline: Peter J. Boyer
The untold story of the congresswoman's struggle, her husband's faith, and their long, hard road to recovery.
The scheduled launch this month of the space shuttle Endeavour has aroused public interest at a level not seen since NASA's glory days--not because of the mission itself, but because of one potential spectator at the Florida liftoff. Since the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson that killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, it has been the goal of her family and doctors that she attend the launch of the Endeavour, commanded by her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly. For Gabby (as she is now known by all), it would be a symbolic moment of triumph. For the country and the world, waiting expectantly and hopefully, it would be the first glimpse of the convalescent who has become America's Congresswoman.
Over these last months, Giffords's difficult path to recovery became that rarest thing: an ongoing good-news story that the public devoured and the media were happy to provide. From the start, details of her actual condition were scant, but her family and staff, colleagues and friends provided enough fresh tidbits to feed the news cycle. The first big news was delivered by the president himself--"Gabby opened her eyes for the first time," Obama announced at a Tucson memorial service, which had the feel of a pep rally--and in the weeks that followed, stunningly good news came forth from Tucson in a steady flow. Giffords touched her husband's face and reached up to give him a neck massage. She spoke her first word, asking for "toast" for breakfast. She was reading get-well cards and scrolling through her iPad. She was able to stand and was even taking a few steps.
Dr. Peter Rhee, the trauma surgeon in Tucson who early on announced that "she has a 101 percent chance of surviving," determined in February that Giffords was ready to be transferred to the Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston. Her new neurosurgeon there said she "looked spectacular," and soon, after she moved to The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) in Houston, came word that Giffords was conversing and even singing.
One effect of all of this good news was to dampen overt speculation about Giffords's political viability. In March her Washington friends held a political fundraiser for her, fetching about $125,000 in pledges to support her 2012 reelection campaign. The New York Times reported that the Giffords team was actively advancing the prospect of a run for departing Republican Jon Kyl's U.S. Senate seat. One of Giffords's Democratic House colleagues, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, visited Giffords in Houston and emerged to say that she was eager to return to the House. "She's raising money now," Berkley told a Las Vegas television reporter. "She's running a campaign from the hospital." Earlier this month Daniel Hernandez, the young Giffords intern who rushed to her side after the shooting and accompanied her to the hospital, told the Arizona press that he'd had several telephone conversations with his boss, some of them "lengthy."
In fact, a number of NEWSWEEK interviews--with Giffords staffers and friends who've visited her, doctors in Arizona and Houston who have treated her, and her husband, Mark--suggest that a more measured assessment of her progress is warranted.
Michael McNulty--scion of a prominent Arizona Democratic family (his father, James, was the last Democrat to hold Giffords's seat), a close Giffords friend, and chairman of her last campaign--describes an atmosphere of concern and hope that has led at times to wishful thinking within the Giffords circle. "I don't know how prevalent this is, but I skip straight to this space, which, like some 6-year-old kid that thinks believing in something hard enough will make it come true, believes that she will come back and that she will make a difference in our lives," McNulty says. …