Giffords' condition 'much improved'


A makeshift memorial outside the Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, where a gunman shot several people including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (AP)

The husband of shot US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords says his wife’s condition has improved so much that she has been able to smile and give him a neck rub at her hospital bedside.

The interactions with astronaut Mark Kelly are new signs of the Arizona Democrat’s impressive progress in recovering from the assassination attempt which happened as she held an open-air surgery on January 8.

The mass shooting outside a Tucson supermarket left six dead and 13 others wounded, including Ms Giffords, who was shot in the head.

But Ms Giffords, 40, still cannot speak because of a tube in her throat that is helping her breathe.

“She’s in the (intensive care unit). You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage,” Mr Kelly says in an interview to be shown on ABC.

“It’s so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she’s looking out for other people.”

Such encounters indicate higher levels of functioning, implying that “she’s recognising him and interacting, perhaps in an old familiar way with him”, said Dr Michael Lemole.

Dr Randall Friese said Mr Kelly also told doctors he saw Ms Giffords smile. He said sometimes people saw what they wanted to see, but that “if he says she’s smiling, I buy it”.

Mr Kelly has also been essential in helping Ms Giffords’ staff through the tragedy, said Mark Kimble, a Tucson staff member who stood only a few feet from the politician when she was shot.

The shooting suspect, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, remained behind bars in Phoenix. Investigators have described him as a mentally unstable man who was kicked out of a community college last year and became increasingly erratic in recent months.

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