Giffords in Critical Condition, Breathing on Own

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords remains in critical condition. Doctors are "impressed that she has done so well and is breathing on her own." One other patient is critical condition, one is serious and three remain in fair condition.
Jan. 11, 2011
Drs. Steve Goldschmid, Michael Lemole and Peter Rhee discussing medical strategies in the treatment of the shooting victims at UMC.
Drs. Steve Goldschmid, Michael Lemole and Peter Rhee discussing medical strategies in the treatment of the shooting victims at UMC.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords remains in critical condition in the ICU at University Medical Center, but doctors report that she is able to breathe on her own. A breathing tube remains in place to protect her from infection. One other patient injured in the shooting tragedy on Jan. 8 remains in critical condition, one is in serious condition and three patients are in fair condition.

Dr. Peter Rhee, medical director of University Medical Center's Trauma and Critical Care and professor of surgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Department of Surgery, said two of the remaining six patients at the hospital underwent surgery today and additional surgeries are planned throughout the week.

"Everything is currently going well with all of those patients," Rhee said. "They are progressing as expected. So far, there are no issues or problems."

Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr., a leading authority on skull base surgery and section chief of neurosurgery at the UA department of surgery, who performed surgery on Giffords, reported that the congresswoman's status remains the same.

"I'm happy to say she's holding her own. Her status is the same as it was yesterday," Lemole said. "She's still following those simple commands. We've been able to back off on some of the sedation and she's able to generate her own breaths. She's breathing on her own."

Lemole said physicians will continue using the breathing tube to protect Giffords' airway so that she doesn't have a complication, such as pneumonia. Lemole is hopeful but reiterated the seriousness of her injury and urged extreme patience.

"She is going to take her recovery at her own pace," Lemole said. "I'm very encouraged by the fact that she has done so well. She has no right to look this good and she does."

Because Giffords' husband is active duty Navy personnel as well as an astronaut, the resources of the entire military were made available to UMC, Rhee said. He invited two experts to consult on Giffords' case.

Dr. James M. Ecklund, medical director of neurosciences, Inova Health System; medical director of neurosurgery, Inova Health System; chairman, Department of Neurosciences, Inova Fairfax Hospital, said the care Giffords received saved her life.

"Everything we've seen reflects the highest quality care," Ecklund said. "Dr. Rhee's team's aggressive resuscitation and Dr. Lemole's team's precise surgical intervention saved her life. Her ICU care is equally outstanding, providing the optimum environment for brain healing."

Dr. and Col. Geoffrey Ling, interim chair of neurology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, canceled a mission to Afghanistan to consult on Gifford's case. He also reiterated the seriousness of her injury.

"She was shot. The bullet did enter her skull; the bullet did traverse through her brain and then exited out the back leaving behind some fragments of bone, so she is critically ill," Ling said. "The good news is that she is, in fact, thriving under the very good – excellent – care here at the University of Arizona."

He said her recovery will be a process that will take some time.

"But I believe with the support she's getting here at UMC from medical and nursing staff as well as the support she's getting from the community at large, we are all very, very hopeful," Ling said.

Family members of two patients also spoke today. Penny Wilson and Angela Robinson, daughters of Mavanell Stoddard, who has been discharged, were unanimous in their praise for the response and treatment their mother received at UMC.

Bill Hileman, whose wife, Susan, is still recovering at UMC, said there have been many heroes involved and thanked the emergency room personnel and every nurse, orderly and doctor that he's met so far.

"I'm so impressed with the quality of care we're getting from this institution and the quality of people, how they operate and the care they take for the feelings and sensitivities of those of us going through this," he said.