Shot US congresswoman 'responding'


US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is said to be 'responding' to basic commands after she was shot in the head in Arizona (AP)

Doctors treating wounded US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords have sounded an optimistic note over her chances for survival after a shooting rampage that left six dead in Tucson, Arizona.

They said they are “very, very encouraged” by her ability to respond to simple commands along with their success in controlling her bleeding.

Federal prosecutors have charged the suspected gunman with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress and four other charges.

Surgeons said a bullet went through Giffords’ head on the left side of the brain, but she is still able to respond non-verbally to commands such as squeezing a hand or showing two fingers. They credited several reasons for her survival, including good luck and the fact that paramedics got her to surgeons at University Medical Centre in Tucson quickly – in under 40 minutes – with the help of a helicopter.

“This is about as good as it is going to get,” said Dr Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon. “When you get shot in the head and the bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living are very small and the chances of you waking up and actually following commands are even much smaller than that. Hopefully it will stay that way.”

Surgeons worked to reduce pressure from swelling in her head by removing bone fragments, and they also removed a small amount of badly damaged brain. Giffords cannot speak because she is on a ventilator.

Police said the gunman was identified by the FBI as Jared Loughner, 22. He was described by friends as a pot-smoking loner who was rejected by the Army when he tried to enlist in 2008. He dropped out of a local community college after having five contacts with campus police for classroom and library disruptions last year.

Federal prosecutors charged Loughner with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. The suspect’s motivation was not immediately known, but Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described him as mentally unstable.

One of the victims was Christina-Taylor Green, who was a member of the student council at her local school and went to the event because of her interest in government. She is the grand-daughter of Dallas Green, former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies major league baseball team. Her father, John Green is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Authorities said the dead included US District Judge John M. Roll; Green; Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79. Judge Roll had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after attending Mass.

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