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Gabrielle Giffords' Brain Injury: FAQ

Giffords Recovering from Point-Blank Gunshot to Head

Will Giffords recover? continued...

Nina Zeldis, PhD, taught rehabilitation medicine at Israel's Tel Aviv University for more than 20 years. She notes that people who, like Giffords, have suffered damage to the left side of the brain tend to have:

  • difficulty speaking and understanding speech
  • difficulty reading
  • increased impulsivity
  • lack of emotional control
  • decreased problem-solving ability
  • diminished long-term planning
  • problems with hand/eye coordination

"The things we do every day and don't think about, all these things we think of as little become enormous and difficult to do," Zeldis says.

During rehabilitation, Zeldis says, many patients are able to compensate for these problems. But many others -- even though they work every bit as hard -- do not.

"It is beautiful when a person makes a little bit of progress, and terrible if you don't see any," she says.

Emotional issues are every bit as difficult as physical issues for a person recovering from trauma, says Alan Manevitz, MD, a psychiatrist who has helped many people cope with disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Survivors have to challenge themselves with rational thoughts, to remind themselves who really is to blame -- not themselves -- and to restore their sense of safety," he says. "They have to talk with others so they don't isolate themselves, and to concentrate on the strengths that have made them resilient in the past. That is a strategy of how to cope with the feelings."

What challenges will Giffords face during rehab?

As soon as it's safe for her to leave the acute-care hospital, Giffords will enter a rehabilitation facility.

A team of professionals will oversee her care. At a minimum, this team will include:

  • A physiatrist. Physiatrists are rehabilitation experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect how a person moves.
  • A neuropsychologist. Neuropsychologists are experts in how brain injuries affect behavior.
  • A speech therapist.
  • A physical therapist.
  • An occupational therapist.

Each member of the team will evaluate Giffords. Then the team will meet and come up with a treatment plan. Treatment will begin immediately.

Assessment will include an evaluation of Giffords' language skills and on what she is and isn't able to do physically. Until this is done, Brooks says, there really is no way to know what the congresswoman can and cannot yet do.

And given her remarkable, against-all-odds recovery so far, there's no way to say what she won't be able to accomplish.

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