Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ medical transfer from Arizona to Texas on Friday went “flawlessly” with Giffords showing signs that she was aware of what was going on, doctors said.
Giffords left the Tucson hospital Friday where she had been treated since being shot in the head January 8. She smiled and teared up when she heard applause from well-wishers outside her ambulance on the way to the Tucson airport, said Dr. Randall Friese of University Medical Center in Tucson.
She arrived at Houston Hobby International Airport shortly after 1 p.m. and was flown in a helicopter to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where one of the surgeons who has treated her since the shooting will hand over care to a new team of doctors.
The hospital said in a statement that she will be transferred to the rehabilitation facility, TIRR Memorial Hermann, when her health allows.
Also scheduled to be on the flight were Giffords’ husband, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Kelly; her mother; and two congressional staffers.
The move is the latest in a string of milestones for Giffords since the 40-year-old congresswoman was shot in the forehead January 8 in an assassination attempt at a meeting with constituents she was hosting outside a Tucson grocery store.
Six people died and 13 were wounded.
On Thursday, she was able to go outside for the first time since the shooting.
“Today, actually, we were glad to say that we were able to take her outside and she was able to do her physical therapy,” Rhee told CNN’s John King.
“We gave her some fresh air and also gave her some sunshine,” said Rhee, speaking from outside University Medical Center. “She was able to see the Arizona mountains.”
Giffords’ husband described his wife’s progress as “remarkable” Thursday, saying he is hopeful the Arizona congresswoman will make a full recovery.
“I’ve told her that,” Kelly told reporters at University Medical Center. “She recognizes it. … She is a fighter like nobody else that I know.”
Giffords is able to stand with assistance, but is not yet able to take steps or walk, said Rhee, adding that therapists are helping Giffords with ways to express her thoughts and, eventually, speak.
“(We are) holding her up so she can train herself to hold her head up,” Rhee said. “She is learning to balance and learning all the little things we can take for granted.”
Investigators have charged Jared Lee Loughner in the attack. A federal grand jury indicted Loughner on Wednesday on three charges of attempted murder. The indictment charges Loughner, 22, with attempting to kill Giffords and two of her aides, Ron Barber and Pamela Simon.
Legal experts said that more federal charges against Loughner are likely.
Loughner is next set to appear in court Monday in Phoenix.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to fully understand the whys and the how and, you know, the reason for what happened on the 8th of January,” Kelly told reporters. “It’s a loss of innocent life. The injury of a dozen people, the death of a 9-year-old girl, a federal judge and the serious traumatic injury to my wife Gabrielle — we’ll never fully understand that.”
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