Husband of Wounded US Lawmaker to Return to Space

This January 9, 2011 photo released by Congressworman Gabrielle Giffords' office shows Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, holding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) hand in her hospital room at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords remains in critical condition after being shot in the head after a gunman opened fire during a political event in Tucson on Saturday. (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Office/Handout )

Feb 5 (KATAKAMI.COM / VOA) — NASA says astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of wounded U.S. lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords, will return to command the space shuttle Endeavour on its final mission in April.

The space agency says Kelly will resume training Monday for the trip to the International Space Station.

At a press conference, Kelly said Giffords’ ability to improve rapidly from a bullet wound in the head influenced his decision to rejoin the mission. He said he originally thought her pace of improvement would be much slower, and that he questioned his future as an astronaut.

Kelly would not share details on Giffords’ condition or prognosis, except to say that doctors think she will make a “really good” recovery.

A NASA official, Brent Jett, said he is glad Kelly is returning to command the mission. He said he is confident Kelly will not be distracted by his wife’s health situation.

Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in Tuscon, Arizona nearly a month ago.

Giffords was recently moved from Tucson to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, where Kelly trains at the Johnson Space Center.

Six people were killed in the Arizona shooting rampage on January 8, including a U.S. federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.

Scott Kelly, Mark Kelly’s twin brother and fellow astronaut, said this week he is “absolutely 100 percent confident” his brother will be able to fulfill his responsibilities if he chooses to fly Endeavour. Scott Kelly is the current commander of the International Space Station.

NASA is retiring its shuttle fleet this year.  (*)

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.

Husband: Giffords smiled and gave him neck rub

FILE - In this March, 2010 file photo provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Giffords poses for a photo. Giffords' condition improved to serious on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011, after procedures to remove a ventilator were successful. (AP Photo/Office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, File)

TUCSON, Ariz., Jan 18 (KATAKAMI.COM/ AP) — The husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords says his wife’s condition has improved so much that she has been able to smile and give him a neck rub as he has kept a near-constant vigil at her hospital bedside.

The interactions with astronaut Mark Kelly are new signs of Giffords’ impressive progress in recovering from a gunshot wound to the head at a political event nine days ago. Giffords still cannot speak, because of a tube in her throat that is helping her breathe.

“She’s in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage,” Kelly explained in an interview with Diane Sawyer to air Tuesday on ABC. “It’s so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she’s looking out for other people.”

Such encounters indicate higher levels of functioning, implying that “she’s recognizing him and interacting, perhaps in an old familiar way with him,” said Dr. Michael Lemole.

Dr. Randall Friese said Kelly also told doctors he saw Giffords smile. He said sometimes people see what they want to see, but that “if he says she’s smiling, I buy it.”

Kelly has also been essential in helping Giffords’ staff through the tragedy, said Mark Kimble, a Tucson staff member who stood only a few feet from Giffords when she was shot.

“There is not a doubt in his mind and not a doubt in any of our minds that she’s going to be back,” Kimble said. “He’s been cheering us up. He’ll come over and when we’re down, he’ll say, ‘Gabby’s going to make it, Gabby’s a little better today.’ That’s a big help to all of us.”

The steady progress for Giffords came on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to remember the legacy of the civil rights leader who was killed by an assassin’s bullet 42 years ago.

Political leaders invoked the assassination attempt against Giffords as they asked Americans to recommit to King’s values of nonviolence, tolerance, compassion and justice.

“Last week a senseless rampage in Tucson reminded us that more than 40 years after Dr. King’s own tragic death, our struggle to eradicate violence and to promote peace goes on,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at King’s former church in Atlanta.

Doctors upgraded Giffords’ condition from critical to serious over the weekend and say they carried out three successful procedures that demonstrate she is recovering well.

A breathing tube was moved from her mouth to her throat along with a separate feeding tube that was shifted from her nose to her stomach. Dr. Randall Friese said removing the tubes in her nose and mouth reduces the risks of infections.

Doctors also said they performed a surgery on Giffords’ eye socket to remove bone fragments to relieve pressure on her eye. There were no complications from the surgery; doctors needed to perform the eye procedure all along but waited until her condition improved to do it.

Elsewhere, doctors have transplanted the corneas from the youngest victim of the Jan. 8 shooting that left a total of six dead and 13 wounded. Christina Taylor Green’s father said Monday that the Donor Network of Arizona told him and his wife that the transplants from the 9-year-old have saved the eyesight of two children.

The suspect in the shooting, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, remained jailed in a federal lockup in Phoenix. Investigators have described him as a mentally unstable man who was kicked out a community college last year and became increasingly erratic in recent months.

He apparently became obsessed with inflicting violence on Giffords since attending one of her campaign events in 2007.

Kelly said he would be willing to meet with the parents of Loughner, who have remained in seclusion since the shooting. Kelly, who has two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, said the parents have to be in a tremendous amount of pain.

“I don’t think it’s their fault. It’s not the parents fault,” Kelly told ABC. “You know, I’d like to think I’m a person that’s, you know, somewhat forgiving. And, I mean, they’ve got to be hurting in this situation as much as much as anybody.”  (*)

Doctors: Giffords Smiling at Husband

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 18 (KATAKAMI.COM / VOA) — The husband of the Arizona congresswoman shot in the head during a shooting rampage this month says her condition has improved to the point where she gave him a 10-minute neck massage from her hospital room.

U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly said in an interview with ABC News that the action is typical of Giffords, who he said is always looking out for others. Giffords is in the intensive care unit at a Tucson hospital.

Kelly also said he would be willing to meet with the parents of 22-year-old Jared Loughner, the man charged in the shooting spree that killed six people and wounded more than a dozen others in Tucson. Kelly told the network that Loughner’s parents must be in a tremendous amount of pain because of the situation.

Giffords’ condition has been upgraded from critical to serious. Doctors treating Giffords say Kelly reported that he saw her smile. They say such encounters imply that Giffords is recognizing him and interacting perhaps in a more familiar way with him.

Separately, the doctors say Giffords had minor surgery to repair a fracture in the roof of her eye socket. They also say she is at the same baseline as before the procedure.

Giffords was shot as she met with constituents outside a grocery store January 8. The dead included a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

The U.S. House of Representatives resumes work this week, after a one-week suspension following the attack on Giffords. The top item on the agenda for the new House Republican majority is to try to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform initiative.

Doctors have voiced optimism regarding Giffords’s chances of recovery, saying she could be released from the hospital and moved into a rehabilitation facility within “days to weeks.” Recently, she has opened her eyes and is responding to simple commands. Doctors say she is breathing on her own.

Loughner, the suspect, has been charged with five federal felony counts, including the attempted assassination of a member of the U.S. Congress.

Officials say his trial likely will be held outside of Arizona because the federal judge, John Roll, was among those killed. (*)

NASA Names Backup Shuttle Commander for Gifford’s Husband

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

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Jan 13 (KATAKAMI / VOA) — The U.S. space agency says it has appointed a backup commander for its upcoming April mission to the International Space Station, while the mission’s original leader tends to his wife, who was shot in the head Saturday.

In a statement Thursday, Astronaut Mark Kelly said he was “hopeful” he would be able to rejoin the mission with space shuttle Endeavor.

It is currently slotted as the final mission for NASA’s 30-year shuttle program.

Kelly’s wife, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is recovering after being shot in an apparent assassination attempt.

NASA said Kelly remains in charge of the mission, but said designating a backup would allow the mission crew and support team to continue training in Kelly’s absence.

Meanwhile, NASA also announced new launch dates for the two remaining shuttle missions, after several delays prompted by problems with space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank.

NASA announced it plans to launch Discovery on February 24 and said it is targeting April 19 for Endeavor’s launch.

NASA cancelled a planned launch attempt in early November when a hydrogen leak led them to discover cracks in some of the metal supports of Discovery’s fuel tank.

Although these are the final scheduled missions, NASA has said another flight could be added mid-year, before the fleet is set to retire. (*)

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