TUCSON, AZ - A neurosurgeon who operated on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords says "she's holding her own" Monday morning.
Doctors at University Medical Center conveyed a remarkable and unlikely story of survival for Giffords.
Giffords, a third term representative for district 8 in Arizona, survived a point-blank gunshot to the head Saturday morning, while holding a casual meeting with constituents at a supermarket in north Tucson.
Doctors described a perfect storm of factors which allowed her to survive an injury which is typically fatal.
"The statistics for penetrating gunshot wounds to the brain are abysmal," said Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon who operated on Giffords. "We're talking 95 percent mortality."
First, there was time. Doctors said Giffords was in emergency surgery within 38 minutes of her initial contact with emergency responders.
That allowed doctors to quickly work to minimize secondary injury, when the brain will swell in response to a wound, creating pressure inside the skull which will add to the brain damage.
Then, there was the injury itself. Doctors said the bullet penetrated the back of the skull and passed through the left hemisphere of the brain. The bullet actually exited Giffords head in the front.
"The skull exploded where the bullet came out. That allowed the brain to not have any secondary injury right away," said Doctor Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon.
Doctors also said there was minimal bleeding from the injury, which might have compromised Giffords further.
Doctors said Giffords is now responding to simple commands, which is a very positive sign.
Lemole said, even responding to a request to squeeze her hand meant that several areas of the brain, from hearing to speech to motor function are working, and functioning together.
Giffords still faces a long road to recovery. While it's possible she could fully recover, doctors say it's nearly impossible to tell how long that will take or even if it will happen.
Giffords may undergo physical therapy and speech therapy ranging from learning how to remember and recall events, to re-learning how to walk and use eating utensils.
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