HealthCheck: Factors that led Giffords to beat odds

January 10, 2011 8:37:47 PM PST
Two-thirds of people who sustain gunshot wounds to the head, don't live long enough to make it to the hospital. But there are several factors that helped Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords beat those long odds.

Congresswoman Giffords' doctors are cautiously optimistic. They say Giffords is following basic commands and they are working to preserve brain function.

Dr. Christopher Loftus, a neurosurgeon at Temple University Hospital, says the quick response of her intern, paramedics and the hospital team helped save the Congresswoman's life.

She was taken to the operating room within 38 minutes of arriving at the hospital.

Also where she was hit is a factor in her survival. For one, the bullet had an entry and exit wound, from the back to the front. This is actually good because it means some of the energy dissipated into space outside instead of inside her skull.

She was also hit on one side, her left side, and higher up meaning it missed vital areas such as the brain stem which controls breathing and the middle of the brain.

"It's good it didn't cross the midline and injure both hemispheres which would be fatal," Dr. Loftus said.

Now, doctors have temporarily removed part of Giffords' skull to allow the brain to swell without increasing the pressure in the skull.

Still Dr. Loftus has no doubt she will have some impairments and will need extensive rehabilitation, most likely including speech and cognitive therapy.

"It doesn't take much brain injury to take away that little fine edge of executive functioning. Function is assessed by months or even years. We say up to two years they can make some kind of recovery," Dr. Loftus said.