Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in her home state more than four months ago and continues to show signs of improvement.
Despite the nearly fatal brain injuries she suffered after January's shooting in Tucson, she's flown to Florida twice from Houston to Florida to see space shuttle launch attempts, and on Monday, with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly on board, she watched the NASA's Endeavour lift off into space. She watched from the roof of the launch control center and remarked, "good stuff, good stuff."
Days and weeks after the Congresswoman was shot, the public followed every detail — when she blinked, when she raised her hand, when she spoke.
Rep. Giffords is doing remarkably well considering the nearly fatal brain injuries she suffered from the shooting, yet some politicians have been fighting for awareness of these injuries for years.
Rep. Bill Pascarell of New Jersey is the co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force which began in 2001, long before Giffords injury. The task force has focused on student athletes and on soldiers returning from service who suffer from traumatic brain injuries, commonly known as TBI. NPR and Pro Publica did an extensive investigative report on soldiers suffering from TBI. According to their investigations, thousands of cases went undiagnosed and untreated.
TBI is a physical problem with the brain. A loud blast in a war zone can send shock waves through helmets to the brain and can create a concussion, the same way a hard hit can happen in a game of football or any other contact sport. The leading cause of death in a sports related injury in the U.S. is a brain injury.
Dr. Brent Masel, the national medical director of the Brain Injury Association said these TBI's are often very hard to diagnose. "There's an enormous number of people who have a concussion somewhere in their life, walking into a swing, getting hit by a baseball," said Dr. Masel, but he said there are many unknowns around these kinds of injuries.
Dr. Masel works in Galveston, Texas, just 40 miles down the road from where Giffords is being treated. "From what I understand," he said, "she's done incredibly well considering the close range of the injury and has made absolutely remarkable recovery." He said this likely due to the wound, depending on the kind of bullet, how close the shot was or if the bullet tumbled in her brain, but her condition today is also in part because she's getting top notch medical care and has workers compensation, according to Dr. Masel. "It goes to show you if you really get the top quality care that every American deserves you can do really well." Giffords isn't the only politician who's dealt with brain injury.
Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota had a brain hemorrhage in 2006 while he was in office. After surgery, a medically induced coma and months of physical and speech therapy, he returned to the Senate nine months later. Johnson, like Giffords, is in his third-term. He was re-elected in 2008 and this year, he became chairman of the powerful Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee — hard proof of a rapid recovery.