Book gives look at Giffords recovery

Monday, November 7, 2011

PHOENIX -- When President George H.W. Bush came to visit her in the hospital, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords could say only "Wow!" and another word she had been uttering frequently at the time, "chicken."

Months later, when she was shown photos of famous people to see if she recognized faces, Giffords looked at Arnold Schwarzenegger and replied, more or less accurately: "Messin' around. Babies."

These and other details emerge in a new book written by Giffords' husband that offers the most personal look yet at her slow, agonizing recovery after being shot in the head at point-blank range.

The memoir, titled "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," describes Giffords' efforts over the past 10 months to relearn how to walk and talk, and her discovery that six people were killed in the Jan. 8 attack outside a Tucson grocery store.

The Associated Press purchased an advance copy of the book, which is set for release Nov. 15.

Giffords herself delivers the last chapter -- a single page of short sentences and phrases called "Gabby's Voice" in which she says her goal is to get back to Congress.

"I will get stronger. I will return," she wrote.

The Arizona Democrat was shot days after being sworn in for her third term, meaning she would have to run for re-election next year. The deadline to formally declare her intentions is in May, 16 months after she was wounded.

Giffords stunned colleagues by appearing on the House floor Aug. 1 to vote for the debt ceiling deal, but she has largely avoided the public eye, spending most of her time at TIRR Memorial Hermann, a rehabilitation center in Houston.

Some Democrats had hoped Giffords would use her newfound fame to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jon Kyl. But a Democratic strategist said Giffords has told Democrats in Arizona that she will not seek a Senate seat. The strategist spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss her plans.

The book also reveals that the couple, who got married in 2007, was trying to have a baby. Giffords, 40, had undergone several rounds of fertility treatments in the last few years and had hoped to get pregnant early in 2011. They still have two frozen embryos available.

In the memoir, Kelly recounts trying to tell his wife several times that she had been shot while meeting with constituents. But she didn't fully understand until March 12.

Kelly asked Giffords if she recalled being shot, and she replied that she did, although he said it was hard to know if she really remembered. She described what she recalled with three words: "Shot. Shocked. Scary."

Later that day, Kelly was reading to her from a New York Times article about her recovery and skipped over a paragraph that said six others were killed. Giffords had been following along and knew he left something out. She pushed him to tell her what it was.

After she learned of the deaths, Giffords was overcome with emotion and had trouble getting through her therapy. That night as they lay in bed, she told Kelly that she felt awful about the deaths. He held her as she cried.

In July, weeks after being released from the Houston hospital to Kelly's home 25 miles away, Giffords wanted to know who had been killed. He warned her that she knew two of the victims.

He started by telling her that her staff member Gabe Zimmerman died, which caused her to moan and cry in a wave of emotion. Then he told her about her friend, federal Judge John Roll, and the four other people she didn't know. Finally, he mentioned the death of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who was born Sept. 11, 2001.

When he first learned of the shooting, Kelly was at home in Houston. He swiftly got on a private plane to fly to Tucson. While in the air he saw initial news reports that his wife was dead.

"It was the most shocking moment of my life," he wrote.

Kelly grew more hopeful after learning from a Giffords staffer that she was alive at a hospital.

When Kelly first saw Giffords after the shooting, she was in a coma, with her head partially shaved and bandaged, her face black and blue, and her body connected to tubes. He told her he loved her and assured her she would survive.

He said the darkest moment came later in Texas: Giffords realized she couldn't talk and panicked. Her eyes widened with fear, and she cried uncontrollably.

The book also offers lighter moments, like when former president Bush and his wife, Barbara, visited the Texas hospital, and when Giffords recognized the picture of Schwarzenegger and made an apparent reference to the former California governor's marital troubles.

Many people with brain injuries struggle to find the right words and repeat the same words and phrases. She eventually learned to talk again. Kelly said she was good at completing passages from the Constitution and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

The book reveals that because of her injuries, Giffords has lost 50 percent of her vision in both eyes.

Also mentioned is Sarah Palin, who was criticized after the shootings for a map posted by her political action committee that showed a number of Democratic-held congressional districts marked with cross hairs.

Giffords' district was among those covered by the tiny symbols, which were supposed to indicate seats that would be targeted by the GOP.

Giffords and her husband found the map disturbing. After the shootings, Kelly vented his feelings to President Barack Obama. He thought Palin might call to offer condolences because of the mounting criticism, but she never did.

Representatives for Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Palin attorney John Tiemessen said he would relay a request for comment to the former Alaska governor.

Kelly writes that the couple's happiest moment since the shooting may have been their time alone in April on a Cape Canaveral beach. Kelly was scheduled to go into orbit aboard the space shuttle the next day, but the launch was scrubbed until May.

The book was co-written by Jeffrey Zaslow, who collaborated on Randy Pausch's million-selling "The Last Lecture." It includes a picture of Giffords and Kelly on the beach, as well as the text of a letter that Kelly wrote to his wife before the launch, just in case he didn't return.

Other photos include Giffords in the hospital in Tucson; Obama at her bedside, holding her hands; and Giffords sitting in a wheelchair at the Kennedy Space Center as the shuttle launches.


Associated Press Writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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