Grieving and Healing

Gabrielle Giffords makes progress while Tucson pays tribute to lost citizens

Barbara Sherman was among the hundreds of people who spent part of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday visiting the growing shrine that now covers the lawn in front of University Medical Center.

Sherman said the sprawling assortment of flowers, candles, photographs, flags and handwritten notes carries a message of hope that "helps you understand that not everyone is bad. There are a lot of good in a lot of people."

It's a reminder that many Tucsonans want to hear as the community continues to reel from the deadly shooting rampage that erupted while Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents just after 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8. Six people were killed, and 13 more were injured, including Giffords, who was shot once in the head.

Sherman, a 56-year-old retiree, said she had never met Giffords, but admired the work she had done over her first two terms.

"She really cares about people," Sherman says. "If you needed help, you could turn to her, and she would help you."

A few hours earlier at UMC, Giffords' doctors had shared new details about a recovery that they characterized, so far, as miraculous. Giffords, 40, has been able to open her eyes and move both her arms and legs. She has responded to friends and family, although her breathing tube has prevented doctors from knowing whether she can speak.

Over the weekend, her condition was upgraded from critical to serious, based on her vital signs. She underwent surgery over the weekend to repair her right eye socket, which was fractured by the bullet that traversed one side of her brain. Doctors also inserted a feeding tube and replaced a breathing tube—which had run through Giffords' mouth and throat—with a tracheostomy tube inserted through her windpipe.

"Within a few hours of the surgery, she was waking up, and through the weekend, she came back to the same baseline she had been (at) before the surgery," said Dr. G. Michael Lemole, the neurologist who has been treating Giffords. "That's all very good."

Lemole said that the work of repairing Giffords' skull, which was partially removed during the surgery that saved her life after she was shot, "is many months down the road. The key we're trying to get her to is rehabilitation, so we can get her to the next step in her recovery."

Lemole estimated that Giffords could be discharged from UMC "in a matter of days to weeks." She will then travel to a new facility to begin her rehabilitation. Lemole said her family is now considering options.

"They have the entire country available," Lemole said. "Proximity to family is very important."

Two other victims of the shooting remained in the hospital as of Monday. Both were in good condition and could be released "within days," according to Dr. Randall Friese, associate medical director of UMC's Trauma Center.

Two members of Giffords' staff who were also shot—district Director Ron Barber and community outreach staffer Pam Simon—were both released last week.

Even from his hospital bed, Barber was meeting with Giffords' staff and sending e-mails from his Blackberry, said Mark Kimble, a spokesman for Giffords' office.

Despite all of the good news at UMC, it was a sad week for Tucson, with a half-dozen funerals for the victims of the rampage: Federal Judge John M. Roll, 63, who had stopped by the event to say hello to Giffords; Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old Mesa Verde Elementary School student who wanted to meet Giffords because she had just won election to her own student council; Gabe Zimmerman, the 30-year-old social worker who worked as Giffords' director of community outreach; and three retirees—Dorwan Stoddard, 76; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79—who just wanted to exchange a few words with the congresswoman.

They were eulogized en masse by President Barack Obama, who came to Tucson on Wednesday, Jan. 12, to speak in the wake of the shooting.

"There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts," Obama said. "But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through."

Before the Wednesday memorial service began, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik—who triggered a national debate with his call for the nation to "do a little soul-searching" over the current state of political debate—had his own words to say about Roll, whose funeral services were held last Friday, Jan. 14.

"John Roll was one of the finest human beings I've ever met," Dupnik said. "He's the epitome of what a judge ought to be. Every judge in the United States ought to take a look at this guy and see what they can do to emulate him. He's not only a brilliant lawyer, but he's as fair and objective and impartial and compassionate as anybody I've ever met."

On the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 17, hundreds of friends and colleagues of Zimmerman—who was known around Giffords' office as "the constituent whisperer" for his ability to handle the most challenging cases—gathered at the Tucson campus of the Arizona State University School of Social Work.

"Gabe was an amazing social worker," said Cathy Nichols, a longtime friend of Zimmerman. "He listened to everyone who came in the door. He didn't view people as difficult. He viewed them as having a problem to solve. He didn't give up."

It was that kind of effort on the behalf of the citizens of Congressional District 8 that brought Dave Locke to the shrine on UMC's lawn, where he watched a small band of musicians sing "Amazing Grace" on Monday.

Locke, 50, said he stops by the shrine every day to honor Giffords and her staff, who helped him get disability benefits and a spot in a city housing project.

"They didn't care which side of the political aisle you were on," Locke said. "They were there to help. To me, Gabby is an angel on Earth, and now she's supported by six other angels in heaven."

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