Two portraits of a smiling Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gave the nation its closest look yet at the congresswoman’s remarkable recovery less than six months after she was shot in the head at point-blank range outside a supermarket.
The pictures posted Sunday on Facebook were the first clear photos of the Arizona congresswoman who rose to national prominence after a gunman opened fire on her in January as she met with constituents in Tucson. Six people were killed and 13 others wounded.
But the images left unanswered many questions about her cognitive abilities and when — or even if — she will be able to resume her job in Congress.
“The image doesn’t tell us the inner mental state or the brain itself, how it’s functioning,” said Jordan Grafman, director of the Traumatic Brain Injury Research Laboratory at the Kessler Foundation Research Center in West Orange, N.J., explaining that many brain-injury patients look good within months of being hurt.
“What’s their social skills? Do they have a nuanced sense of humor? Can they participate in activities? All that is what’s important,” asked Grafman, who has not treated Giffords.
In one of the images, Giffords smiles broadly and looks straight at the camera like a high school student posing for a yearbook. In another, more candid shot, she is grinning alongside her mother. In both, her smile is largely unchanged, though her hair is shorter and darker. The pictures give few indications she has been hurt, let alone shot in the forehead.
Giffords’ aides say she could be ready to be released from a rehabilitation center later this month or in early July. The idea was to discourage a “paparazzi-like frenzy” of photography when she attends outpatient therapy in a more public setting, they said.
The congresswoman’s staff said the images had not been altered or touched up in any way. But other than saying the pictures were taken May 17 at the Houston rehabilitation hospital where Giffords has been undergoing treatment, her staff offered no further insight into her recovery.
For months, they have closely guarded Giffords and information about her condition. Her doctors, in the absence of permission from the family to speak publicly, remain mum. So the release of the photos attracted intense interest.
Giffords was shot in the left side of the head, the part of the brain that controls speech and communication. Doctors, friends and families have said she can speak, sing some of her favorite songs and engage in some conversation.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she had a “wonderful conversation” Wednesday with Giffords on the phone and that this time her colleague even initiated some of the topics they discussed.