Support vital to Giffords’ recovery
By CARLOS FRIAS
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Crowds of well-wishers dotted the 10-mile stretch of road to cheer on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Last week, she left the Tucson, Ariz., hospital where she had been recovering since being shot in the head by a gunman on Jan. 8. And as her motorcade made its way to the airport, where a private plane took her to a Texas rehab center, scores of people came out to support her with signs and cheers.
She’s going to need that support.
Locally, experts from neurosurgeons to brain-injury rehab specialists all agree that Giffords will have a long and difficult recovery ahead, but the overwhelming public support will go a long way toward helping Giffords as much as any regimented brain-injury therapy.
“Clearly, this is going to be in her favor,” said Dr. Kester Nedd, director of neurological rehabilitation at Jackson Health System/University of Miami School of Medicine, one of the country’s top facilities. “You have the whole country rooting for her."
A strong support system will be critical in her recovery because the work over the next few months, and even years, will be unending.
The recovery for a person who suffered such a serious injury is twofold: to retrain her body to do the basics and retrain her mind to accept certain limitations that may never be completely cured.
To start with, she will undergo between three to five hours of daily therapy: physical, occupational and speech, said Cheri Archer Silveria, the rehabilitation director at Delray Beach’s renowned Pinecrest Rehabilitation Hospital, one of only seven facilities in the state that treat patients with brain injury.
She expects that specialists will focus on three areas: her memory and cognition, motor skills and balance. They will do everything from assess how well she can learn and retain information to teach her the basics of brushing her teeth and hair. In many ways, she will be relearning all the things she learned as a child.
“Twenty years ago, they just sent people with brain injuries to a nursing home,” Nedd said. “We’ve made incredible strides in this country to help people with brain injuries.”
Then again, there is no guarantee for how well she will relearn the daily tasks in her life.
To some extent, most brain injury patients will have to live with some level of disability. Some will have short-term or long-term memory loss. Others will be limited in how well they can walk or run or use their arms and legs.
“That’s the thing with brain injuries. You just don’t know,” said Archer Silveria. “But we have seen people come through here who make remarkable recoveries.”
That Giffords was reported to be up, walking and looking out the window in her Tucson, Ariz., hospital room is a great indicator for a good recovery, several experts agreed.
“There are some people who have had brain injuries and you would never notice it,” said Myra Reilly, the nursing director at Pinecrest.
Several neurologists said being highly educated, which Giffords was, has been shown to help brain-injured patients make a stronger recovery. However, that cuts both ways. Those who were used to being high achievers before the injury may become frustrated or depressed if they are not able to return to that level of excellence.
But that inner drive can help to push the highly successful, such as Giffords, to continue working through their challenges.
“People with high expectations before a brain injury have high expectations after a brain injury,” said Dr. Richard Riggs, the medical director and chairman of the rehabilitation center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “We don’t know where she is going to end up. The prognosis for brain injury patients is not exact.”