The first photos of US politician Gabrielle Giffords since she was shot in the head in a mass shooting five months ago were released early today.
The photos appeared on her Facebook page.
Both pictures show the congresswoman outside. In one she is alone and smiling at the camera, her hair trimmed short with the skin on the side of her head slightly discoloured but with no clear sign of any scarring. In the other, she is sitting with a woman.
Ms Giffords has been in a Houston rehab facility since two weeks after the January 8 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
Six people were killed and 13 were injured, including Ms Giffords.
Since the shooting, the only time the public was able to glimpse Ms Giffords was on April 27 as she boarded a plane to Florida to watch astronaut husband Mark Kelly launch into space. The grainy footage showed Ms Giffords slowly but purposefully walking up the aeroplane’s stairs.
The newly released photos provide a much clearer image.
Last month as Mr Kelly was orbiting Earth, doctors repaired Ms Giffords’ skull, finally freeing her from wearing a cumbersome protective helmet that her staff members say she hated.
Since the shooting, Ms Giffords has made remarkable strides, requesting her favourite foods, singing her favourite songs, and relearning how to walk and talk, although she struggles to string sentences together.
In an interview with The Arizona Republic published on Thursday, Ms Giffords’ Chief of Staff Pia Carusone said Ms Giffords’ limited speaking ability has led her to rely primarily on facial expressions and hand gestures to communicate.
“She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she’s still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing,” Ms Carusone said.
“Add it all together and she’s able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But, when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that’s where she’s had the trouble.”
Ms Carusone also said that if Ms Giffords’ recovery were to plateau now, “it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before”.
“All that we can hope for is that she won’t plateau today and that she’ll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here,” she said.
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the shooting and is being held at a Missouri facility. A judge declared him incompetent to stand trial, but prosecutors hope his competency can be restored so he can answer for the charges.