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Sunday 19 November 2017

Giffords tells of recovery from being trapped in her own body


IT was the desperate, terrifying moment when Gabrielle Giffords feared that she would spend the rest of her life trapped inside her own body, stranded in a wheelchair and unable to speak.

Tears flowed as she gasped for breath, choking in panic, realising the future that she might face.

Just a month earlier, on January 8 this year, a deranged would-be assassin had walked up to the US congresswoman, a rising and popular star of the Democratic Party, and shot her through the brain.

That she had survived at all was miraculous. But now she was beginning to comprehend the horror of her condition.

Her husband Mark Kelly, a retired US astronaut, describes this "lowest moment" in her long, painstaking, rehabilitation in Gabby: A Story Of Courage and Hope, a memoir by the couple, which is to be published on Tuesday.

"Gabby was sitting in her wheelchair, tears running down her face," he writes.

"She was hyperventilating, absolutely panicked. Gabby motioned with her left hand, waving it by her mouth. It didn't take me long to figure out what was wrong.

"She had tried to speak and she couldn't. She had just figured out she was trapped inside herself. Her eyes were as wide open as I'd ever seen them and the look on her face was one of absolute fear.

"I could tell what she was thinking: that this was what her life would be like from now on, that she'd never be able to communicate even the simplest word." He held her and cried with her. But he also made a vow. "It'll get better," he told her, "I promise you."

And it did. Indeed, although Miss Giffords still struggles with words, the world is hearing her speak for the first time since the attack.

Asked how she feels, she smiles and declares "pretty good" in a trailer of an ABC News interview with the couple to be broadcast on Monday to promote the book. "Is it painful?" the interviewer asks. "It's difficult," she replies.

Miss Giffords, 41, has also recorded the final chapter of the book for the audio version. There she vows: "I will get stronger. I will return."

The book and interview tell a story of resilience and recovery, but also detail the pain and setbacks of her journey back to a "new normal".

None of this would seemed even remotely possibly on the awful morning 10 months ago when a troubled 22-year-old called Jared Loughner went on a shooting spree at a constituents' meeting for the politician outside a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona.

By the time he was tackled to the ground, six people were dead, including a federal judge, a Giffords aide and a nine-year-old girl. Another 13 were injured.

Despite her progress, it was still often dispiriting for Capt Kelly to see how his wife, so inquisitive about life and people before the shooting, was locked inside herself. He longed for progress -- for the day that she would articulate a question, rather than just responding to them.

And that came in early July as they ate a dinner of salad and spaghetti and he asked about her therapy.

She turned to him and said: "Your day?" It was the simplest of enquiries and yet a huge breakthrough. "Gabby, was that a question? Are you asking me how my day was?" Her face lit up. "Yes, how was your day?" Capt Kelly was so exhilarated that he could not remember what he had done a few days earlier and had to scroll through his email to jog his memory as they both grinned and laughed.

A month later, in early August, Miss Giffords made a triumphant return to Washington to support Obama's plans to raise the US debt ceiling in a crucial Congress vote. That fuelled speculation that she might even run for re-election next year, but there's no rush, says her husband.

Sunday Independent

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