TUCSON, Ariz. – The husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has told doctors and an interviewer that his wife has improved so much that she has been able to smile and give him a back rub from her hospital bed.
The encounters with astronaut Mark Kelly are new signs of Giffords' impressive progress in recovering from a gunshot wound to the head at a political event nine days ago.
"She knows that he's there, and from what we can tell from the fixation of her eyes, she is interacting with him," said Dr. Lynn Polanski.
By fixation, Polanski meant that Giffords' eyes were focusing, although it's not clear how much she can see and doctors won't know that until they talk to her. Giffords still cannot speak, because of a tube in her throat that is helping her breathe.
"She cannot vocalize, but she certainly can mouth words when she's ready to do that," said Dr. Randall Friese.
Kelly also told doctors he saw Giffords smile. Sometimes people see what they want to see, but that "if he says she's smiling, I buy it," Friese said.
Besides the tracheotomy for breathing, Giffords also had a feeding tube inserted Saturday.
And doctors successfully performed a surgery on Giffords' eye socket to remove bone fragments to relieve pressure on her eye. There were no complications from the surgery, said Dr. Michael Lemole.
Kelly told Diane Sawyer of ABC News in an interview to air Tuesday that his wife is now able to move around well enough that she gave him a back rub from her hospital bed.
"(It is) so typical of her. She's in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage," Kelly explained. "I keep tellin' her. I'm like, 'Gabby, you're in the ICU. You know, you don't need — you know, you don't need to be doin' this.' But it's so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she's lookin' out for other people."
The gesture seemed to comfort Giffords and shows that his wife is improving and that her spirit and their personal bond remain strong, he said.
Kelly also said he would be willing to meet with the parents of suspect Jared Loughner. Kelly, who has two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, said they have to be hurting.