Tulsa Neurosurgeon Calls Congresswoman Giffords' Progress 'Remarkable'

Thursday, January 27th 2011, 5:01 pm
By: News On 6

Dan Bewley, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- It's been 19 days since Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona. Since then she's become an inspiration to everyone, but especially to those in the medical community.

"The fact that she's already in rehab is remarkable because you are not able to get to rehab until you're functioning at a certain level, which is pretty high," Dr. Patrick Han, a neurosurgeon, said.

Dr. Patrick Han is a neurosurgeon and medical director of the St. John Neurosurgical Center. He's been watching the remarkable recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She's now in rehab less than three weeks after being shot in the head at close range.

"I get a sense it more skived through, it wasn't way deep in," Dr. Han said.

Dr. Han said her survival started because of where the bullet passed through her brain.

"She's very lucky the path of the bullet, that the bullet took a path through one hemisphere instead of going through both hemispheres," Dr. Han said.

Had it gone through both hemispheres, he said, or through the center of the brain, her condition would have been much more grave. Instead it stayed on the left side, the part of the brain that governs speech and the ability to understand language.

"What is at risk with the left side would be her ability to move the right side of her face, the right arm, and her right leg," he said. "From the reports I've read in the media, it appears she's already able to regain some of that function."

Dr. Han also credits the quick work of doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson. He's friends with the chief of neurosurgery there and says they quickly put together a plan learned from the battlefield, remove parts of the skull allowing the brain to swell while it heals.

It's something neurosurgeons across the country are learning from and paying attention to.

"The main thing to learn from this case is to react quickly and to be aggressive and decompressing the brain and to not give up hope," Dr. Han said.

Dr. Han also knows one of the doctors working with Representative Giffords in Houston. He feels there's significant hope for her recovery but that it's important to be realistic about her long-term outcome.