Giffords's husband says she recognizes him

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband, space shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly, are seen in an undated handout photo provided by her Congressional campaign, January 8, 2011. Giffords was hit in a shooting on Saturday at a public event of the Congresswoman's at a Tucson, Arizona grocery store that also injured at least nine other people, hospital and law enforcement sources said. REUTERS/Giffords for Congress/PK Weis/Handout

Jan 19 (KATAKAMI.COM / Reuters) – Congressman Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, says he is certain his wife recognizes him and is making her awareness of his bedside presence known more than a week after she was shot through the head.

While doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona, said over the weekend that Giffords remained mostly incommunicative, Kelly said his spouse is connecting with him through small, but distinct gestures.

“If I hold her hand, she’ll play with my wedding ring,” Kelly, a NASA space shuttle commander, told ABC News in his first television interview since his wife was gravely wounded in a shooting rampage on January 8.

“She’ll move (the ring) up and down my finger. She’ll take it off. … She’ll put it on her own finger. She’ll move it to her thumb. And then she can put it back on my finger,” he said.

Kelly’s full interview was set to air on Tuesday night on a special edition of the prime-time program “20/20.” ABC News released excerpts in advance. Portions also aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “World News with Diane Sawyer” and “Nightline” broadcasts.

“The reason why I know that that means she recognizes me is because she’s done that before,” Kelly said. “She’ll do that if we’re sitting in a restaurant. She’ll do the same exact movements.”

Kelly told Sawyer in his interview that Giffords, 40, even managed to give him a 10-minute neck rub, “and I keep telling her, ‘Gabby, you’re in the ICU. You know, you don’t need to be going this.'”

He added with a chuckle, “I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t do that to somebody else. And she’s looking me in the eye.”

Kelly’s anecdotes seemed at odds with the level of function described over the weekend by doctors, who said they had seen little sign of Giffords interacting despite upgrading her overall medical condition from critical to serious following removal of a breathing tube that ran through her mouth and down her throat.

That ventilator hose was replaced on Saturday with a tracheotomy tube inserted through her neck and into her windpipe but still leaves her unable to speak.

“She cannot socialize,” Dr. Randall S. Friese, associate medical director of the hospital, told reporters on Monday.

Still, doctors said they were extremely pleased with Giffords’ progress and that the next key milestone she faced would be her discharge from the hospital, marking her graduation from recovery to rehabilitation.

Giffords, a Democrat just elected to her third term representing Tucson and southern Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives, was one of 19 people struck by gunfire at a meet-and-greet with constituents.

Six people were killed and 13 others wounded, Giffords being the most seriously hurt. A 22-year-old college dropout, Jared Lee Loughner, is in federal custody charged as the lone gunman in the attack.

Kelly acknowledged that his wife still has a difficult road ahead of her but called her a “really, really tough woman.”

He also told Sawyer that he had worried for his wife’s safety in the past and that they had discussed death threats she had received prior to the shooting.

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