Gabrielle Giffords 'Stronger, better, tougher,' but she'll never be the same

TUCSON, AZ - What is most shocking about Gabby Giffords now is how much she looks like her old self. Her golden locks are back, so is the sparkle in her eyes and her broad smile. Gone is the short hair and thin frame we saw at the beginning of her recovery.

Yet she knows she will never be the same.

"Stronger. Stronger, better, tougher. Stronger, better, tougher." That's how Giffords describes herself.

The former Arizona congresswoman makes that declaration with determination and gusto. But it still takes a considerable amount of energy and concentration to articulate that, or anything else.

Being with Giffords, who was shot in the head two years ago during an appearance in front of an Arizona supermarket, it is obvious that she understands and absorbs everything around her. She follows conversation, reacts, engages and offers unsolicited ideas -- usually in the form of a single word or gesture that makes clear what she means.

But at times, even simple words are a struggle, like when she tries to explain how she spends her days.

"Occupational therapy, yogurt," said Giffords.

Her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, patiently and quietly corrects her, saying "yoga."

"Yoga, yoga," Giffords repeats, offering a playful smile to signal she gets how funny it was that she said "yogurt" instead of "yoga."

She has go-to phrases that indicate how she feels, often saying "good stuff" to express encouragement and "whoa" to show something excites her or makes her happy.

The right-handed Giffords still has no use of that hand and that arm is paralyzed. She generally wears a sling to keep it from flopping around.

Her right leg is also paralyzed. She wears a large brace and literally drags her right leg with her good, left leg to walk. Still, she walks remarkably well.

Giffords has a service dog -- Nelson, a golden lab -- with her at all times.

She is also still aided by nurses, who come to her home, and by speech therapists, who constantly work with her to help improve her ability to communicate.

She also doesn't see very well.

"Not great at all," is how she described her vision.

Giffords has limited sight in both eyes - no peripheral vision to the right.

Kelly jokes that when he wants to sneak up on her he will come around the right so she can't see him coming.

That makes Giffords giggle.

It is clear watching the couple interact that humor helps keeps her spirits up, and eases the pressure of their intense daily struggle.

For Kelly and Giffords, this is the new normal -- a life together that neither could have ever imagined when they first got together. She was a bright young political rising star and he was an astronaut.

Kelly said it is "different in a lot of good ways."

The biggest difference? For the first time, they actually live in the same house, in the same city, in the same state.

Before Giffords was shot, she jetted between her home in Tucson and work in Washington, while Kelly lived and worked in Texas -- home of Johnson Space Center.

They had a commuter marriage, which didn't allow them much time together. Now, they are together all the time, living in a ranch style home they bought last summer.

And since January, the two work together as well. They started Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization and super PAC dedicated to pushing Giffords' former colleagues in Congress to support new restrictions to help curb gun violence.

Giffords work and her recovery are not unrelated. Those around her said she has noticeably made more progress with her speech and physical challenges over the past few months since she reengaged in the world of politics and public policy.

Kelly said Giffords does have moments of frustration, but both insist she is mostly optimistic and not resentful.

"No. Move ahead," said Giffords. "Move ahead."

Print this article Back to Top

Comments