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Homepage (Subscribers) / TRAGEDY IN ARIZONA

When Gabby Opened Her Eyes

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's husband Mark Kelly holds his wife's hand in her hospital room on Sunday.(Courtesy Photo)

photo of Major Garrett
January 13, 2011

Updated at 7:37 a.m. on January 13.

According to a senior Democratic congressional source, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., on Wednesday opened her eyes for the first time since being shot at point-blank range Saturday by a would-be assassin.

Giffords opened her eyes in the presence of her near-constant bedside companion, husband Mark Kelly, and some first-time hospital visitors: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. Pelosi, Gillibrand, and Wasserman Schultz are close friends of Giffords.

Gillibrand and Wasserman Schultz recounted their experience to reporters on the trip back to Washington aboard Air Force One. They said they had been telling Giffords about all the things they planned to do when she recovered -- going out for pizza, taking a summer vacation in New Hampshire -- when she started to open her eyes. Throughout their visit, they said, Giffords had been responding to other physical stimuli by rubbing their hands or moving her legs.

 

"It felt like we were watching a miracle," Wasserman Schultz said. "The only way I could describe the feeling that we had, that I had, was other than the birth of my kids, this was the most incredible feeling, to see literally your -- one of your closest friends just struggle to come back to you, to come back to her family, to come back to her friends."

She told CNN late Wednesday that Giffords first opened her eyes only partially, then fully a few moments later. Gillibrand told the network she kept her eyes open for 30-60 seconds.

Gillibrand said that a very emotional Kelly told Gifford to give them a thumbs up if she could see him. But instead of just making the sign with her hand, Gillibrand said, Giffords raised her entire arm and started reaching out toward her husband as if she wanted to hug him.

"It was raw courage. It was raw strength. It was so beautiful and so moving," Gillibrand said. "We were in tears. We couldn’t believe our eyes how courageous she was and how much she wanted to talk to us."

Wasserman Schultz and Gillibrand said the doctor who was in the room with them was very excited by her movement.

"He said, 'You don’t understand, this is amazing what she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes,'" Gillibrand told reporters.

President Obama's recounting of Giffords's experience electrified the crowd at the University of Arizona's McKale Memorial Center during a memorial service for the victims of Saturday's massacre.

According to the congressional source, Pelosi arrived at the hospital at 4:05 p.m., but she and her entourage did not see Giffords until after President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited from 4:07 p.m. to 4:16 p.m. local time.

Pelosi, Gillibrand, and Wasserman Schultz then entered Giffords's room in the University Medical Center's intensive care unit and witnessed the stricken congresswoman open her eyes for the first time since she suffered her near-fatal gunshot wound early Saturday morning.

CORRECTION: This story corrects an element of chronology from a previous version.

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