Giffords Step-down Sheds Light on TBI Rehab


Gabrielle Giffords says “I will be back!”

Who can forget that awful day over a year ago when so many lives were changed forever. On January 8, 2011 at a community event in Tucson, Arizona, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of supporters of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Among the 18 wounded was Giffords, herself, who suffered a devastating shot to the head and was first assumed dead by many news media. Although she survived, Gabby (as she is fondly know by colleagues and constituents) sustained a severe brain injury, the effects of which are still apparent and will likely be felt for the rest of her life.

Last Sunday, Gabby announced that she will be stepping down from Congress in order to focus on her therapies. She has made miraculous progress in her rehabilitation but the reality of brain injury is that the brain, that amazing but delicate organ, needs time to heal.It can withstand many offenses but when a bullet traverses through some of the more crucial areas of higher level functioning, the question becomes more of a matter of “how much” than “how long it will take” a person will recover. In Gabby’s case she is doing phenomenal but there are misconceptions about the rehabilitation of brain injury, from the notion that one goes back to “normal” to “everyone recovers the same from the same type of injury.” Giffords is experiencing what millions of brain injured individuals have experience across the nation.

This is not to say that a person with a brain injury wont be able to overcome the challenges associated with brain injury injury. The type, severity, location, and intervention of the injury all affect a person’s ability a to function productively in society. It’s a sliding scale ranging from relatively mild impairment to complete incapacitation or death. But you don’t have to have a bullet to the head to withstand injuries severe enough to affect the daily functions we often take for granted. The Brain Injury Association of America explains that the potential affects of even mild traumatic brain injury are numerous and may include:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty acquiring new, especially complex, information
  • Challenges in speaking
  • Social Anxiety and crowd avoidance
  • Difficulty controlling outbursts
  • Anger and/or depression
  • Loss of spatial/visual acuity
  • Loss of “Big Picture” thinking, and the list goes on…

A common tool to determine the initial outlook following a severe brain injury is the “Glasgow coma scale”. This scale measures responsiveness, such as the ability to perform commands, spacial orientation, and eye movement. After medical intervention, a person may need speech and cognitive therapy for months or even years, and may need to return to therapy later. The immediate and skilled medical care that Giffords received will make a huge difference for her in the years to come.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.7 million people in the U.S. sustain a brain injury each year, though countless injuries go unnoticed or unreported. Of these, about 75% are mild, resulting from concussions or other forms of mild TBI. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the case of Gabrielle Giffords, a brain injury can be severe enough can take months or years to rehabilitate.

Two important questions following a brain injury: What can I do to minimize the effects of my TBI and What can family members do to help?

Resources such as the Brain Injury Association of America and local non-profit organizations such as the Brain Injury Association of Arizona can help families and victims of brain injury understand their condition and assist in finding helpful therapies, resources, and support groups. Immediate intervention can change the outcome of rehabilitation but it’s the lasting support and guidance that teaches families how to work with the changes. Surprisingly, new symptoms of brain injury can show up years, even decades later!

Time will tell if and when we will see the Congresswoman reclaim her seat in the House of Representatives. For now, she is making a smart decision to focus on therapy. You can see her early progress here and keep up with her on her Webpage. We wish her all the best and look forward to her next triumph!

Thanks to the following articles for their insight:

Ten Myths of Head Injury Recovery

Glasgow Coma Scale

Doctors: Gifford’s brain damage hard to predict

Ariz. Rep. Giffords, Others Shot; At Least 4 Dead

Gabrielle Giffords miraculous recovery: A timeline

Gabby Giffords will trade Congressional job for full time rehab in Houston

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wraps district work work today

Gabrielle Giffords shooting: Survival factors after gunshot wound to head

Cognitive Rehabilitation

Living with Brain Injury

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Posted on January 25, 2012, in News, Support and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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