Rep. Giffords May Attend Her Husband’s Shuttle Launch

March 11, 2011 - 6:47 AM

Houston (AP) - Encouraged by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' progress, family and friends are making plans for the wounded congresswoman to attend her husband's upcoming space shuttle launch, a person close to the family says.

Although doctors -- constrained by confidentiality laws -- have been tight-lipped about her progress, those close to her have provided tidbits of information since she was moved to TIRR Memorial Hermann on Jan. 26.

But on Friday, her doctors will give their first public update on her recovery since she began intensive rehabilitation after being shot in the head.

The person close to the family, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the family and doctors have not yet publicized the decision, told The Associated Press that she will likely attend the mission launch next month in Florida.

Giffords was shot in the head Jan. 8 at a political event outside a grocery store in an attack that killed six people and wounded 12 others.

In recent weeks, family and friends have expressed optimism that Giffords will be able to attend the launch in April, when her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, will command the Endeavour's last flight.

The media and general public also speculated, watching in awe and hoping Giffords would beat the odds of her devastating head injury and recover quickly enough to watch her husband rocket into space.

Doctors, however, have been cautious, calling her attendance a goal, but tempering the optimism with key medical considerations.

Dr. Gerard Francisco, the head of the team of doctors overseeing Giffords' rehabilitation, said last month a decision would be based on how independent her movement is, how much assistance is available to her and whether she could handle the hubbub of an airport.

TIRR Memorial Hermann, the rehabilitation center where she is being treated, and her doctors declined to confirm Thursday whether she would attend the launch.

C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Giffords in Arizona, said getting her to Cape Canaveral remains the goal.

"The plan has always been for the congresswoman to attend. If that is possible, it will happen," he said.

Kelly has been training for the mission in Houston, while his identical twin brother, Scott, is the current leader of the International Space Center crew. He has said he wants his wife at his launch.

Friends and family have at times described Giffords showing emotion, singing "American Pie" with her stepdaughters as part of music therapy and pushing a shopping cart down the hospital corridors as she regains her walking abilities.

Rabbi David Lyon, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, visits Giffords three times a week and says her speech has improved.

"There are words that are becoming clearer and opportunities to communicate are increasing," Lyon told The Associated Press.

Giffords was shot in the left hemisphere of her brain, which controls communication. There had been concerns that she could have problems with speech, and it remains unclear what, if any, impediments remain and what could be permanent.

Lyon declined to share information from the conversations he has had with Giffords, but confirmed she is often surrounded by family and friends. Her room, he said, is decorated with pictures that are important to her, including images of friends and scenes from home.

"She's a part of a life and that's an important part of anyone's healing," Lyon said.

The suspect, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, has pleaded not guilty in federal court. Authorities described him as a mentally unstable college dropout who became obsessed with carrying out violence against Giffords. He appeared in court this week in Tucson at a hearing attended by at least three survivors of the attack.

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Associated Press Writer Jacques Billeaud contributed to this report from Phoenix.