HOUSTON, April 24 (UPI) -- After 15 weeks of recovery, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., is making great strides and can now stand on her own, her doctors said.
"I can't say I notice improvement every day, but I can every few days," her husband, astronaut Mark Kelley, told The Arizona Republic.
The left side of Giffords' brain was pierced during a shooting at a constituent event in Tucson Jan. 8, leaving her with limited function on the opposite side of her body and forcing her to complete many tasks with her left hand.
Doctors say it is difficult for her to string together long sentences, but Giffords clearly communicates in short bursts, the newspaper reported Sunday. Her awareness of her surroundings is keen, and she can now stand on her own and is close to walking independently.
"For somebody with that kind of injury, we start with, 'Are they even going to come out of the coma,' much less 'what are they going to be doing later?'" Dr. Dong Kim, Giffords' neurosurgeon, told the newspaper.
Giffords "is maybe in the top 1 percent of patients in terms of how far she's come, and how quickly she's gotten there. I think the question, then, becomes, how far is she going to go?"
He and other doctors at the Houston TIRR Memorial Herman rehabilitation center in Texas agree more progress is virtually guaranteed.
Kim said most physical and speech recovery occurs in the first year, while judgment and thinking skills may improve for years, though Giffords demonstrated a firm understanding of events in the weeks following the shooting.
This week she attended a send-off for Kelley, who is aboard space shuttle Endeavour, and penned him a letter customary for departing astronauts.