Gabrielle Giffords is under intensive care at Texas Medical Centre after a flawless trip from Arizona, where throngs of well-wishers gave her a farewell that brought a tearful smile from the congresswoman.
Her new team of doctors planned to start her therapy for a bullet wound to the brain immediately, and she will be sent to the centre’s rehabilitation hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann, after several days of evaluation.
Dr Gerardo Francisco, chief medical officer at Memorial Hermann, said Ms Giffords, 40, has “great rehabilitation potential”, and added: “She will keep us busy, and we will keep her busy as well.”
The first thing is to determine the extent of her injuries and the impact on her abilities to move and communicate.
Ms Giffords hasn’t spoken yet, and it’s unknown whether she will suffer permanent disabilities.
Earlier on Friday, the convoy of vehicles carrying the congresswoman swept past cheering crowds as she left the hospital in Tucson, where she dazzled doctors with her recovery from being shot in the head two weeks ago.
“She responded very well to that – smiling and even tearing a little bit,” said Dr Randall Friese, a surgeon at the University Medical Centre trauma centre in Tucson who travelled with Giffords.
“It was very emotional and very special.”
A gunman shot Giffords and 18 other people on January 8 as she met with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson. Six people died.
The suspect in the attack, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, is being held in federal custody.
Since she was hospitalised, Ms Giffords has made progress nearly every day, with characteristically cautious surgeons calling her improvement remarkable.
But each new press conference seemingly yields a few more details about the Giffords that her family knows.
Tracy Culbert, a nurse who accompanied Ms Giffords and the congresswoman’s husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, on the flight, described her as being captivated by a ring on Culbert’s finger. The nurse took it off and Giffords put it on her own hand.
“She was taking it off my hand and I asked if she wanted to see it,” Culbert said.
Asked how she felt about leaving Giffords on Friday to return to Arizona, Culbert replied, “Do you want me to cry?
“She’s a very gentle person, and her personality is coming out with her touches, the way she touches us, the way she looks at us, and I am very lucky to know her.”
She added: “I have a lot of hope for her, and I know she’s going to do great.”
Doctors said Giffords will stay in the intensive care unit for now because she has a drain to remove fluid build-up in her brain.
Because part of her skull was removed during surgery, a helmet has been made to protect her brain.
Specialists ranging from physical and occupational therapists to speech therapists and psychologists will give a slew of tests to see what she can and cannot do.
Dr Dong Kim, neurosurgery chief at University of Texas Health, said Ms Giffords has some weakness or paralysis on her right side.
He said she can move her leg, and may be able to support herself, but “may not be able to move it when she wants.”
Ms Giffords will stay at Memorial Hermann until she no longer needs 24-hour medical care – the average is one to two months.
Then she can get up to five hours a day of physical and other rehab therapies as an out-patient.