Yesterday (January 8th) was the 65th birthday of David Bowie and would have been the 77th birthday of Elvis Presley. It was also one year exactly since Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives, who represented Arizona’s 8th congressional district since 2007 was shot in the head by a would-be assassin near Tucson.
On that Saturday a year ago, Giffords was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head; thirteen people were injured and six others were killed in the shooting, among them conservative federal judge John Roll.
I remember the shock waves created by the shooting, not just in the United States but over here in Britain where I live and indeed across the world. Here was a politician who was aware that she had been threatened and indeed her office had been attacked because of her views on healthcare reform and illegal immigration who had chosen to ignore safety advice and meet her constituents outside of a supermarket in her home state of Arizona.
I was appalled,as were so many, by this senseless act of violence. The fact that she had been shot in the head meant that there was a very good chance that, should she survive, she would suffer irreparable damage to her brain and that would effect other parts of her body and her ability to function as a human being no mind as a politician.
The last year has seen Gabby (as she is called by almost everyone) go through a long and at times frustrating process of relearning how to talk, how to walk and how to communicate with others. At her side, especially in the early days, was her husband, Mark Kelly, a well-known NASA astronaut.
I watched a video that showed part of moving interview that Gabby and Mark did with Diane Sawyer. It shows how she has difficulties still in walking and sometimes Mark has to interpret what she wants to say but is unable to fully express. But she has the ability to listen, to react to statements or events, has regained her ability to walk and to decode the sounds that we call language.
Here is the video:
I have recently been studying neuroscience and am amazed at the plasticity of the brain and the ability that it has to start to build us up again when we have been knocked down. There are so many examples of people who have recovered from severe head injuries. In the case of Gabby it is unlikely that she will ever be exactly the person that she was before, but the interview shows just how far she has personally travelled in her efforts to get back to some form of normal life.
Here is a video that explains some of the ways that Gabby has been helped to regain her powers of speech using some of the newest research in neuroscience.
Her husband Mark Kelly retired from NASA in October of last year. He has co-written a book with his wife about her fight to recover after the shooting called “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope”. After his retirement he said that he planned to make public speaking appearances where he will discuss his career as an astronaut and share his and Gabby’s “story with audiences in a way that will allow healing and strength to emerge from a tragic event, and to remind everyone about the resiliency of the human spirit.”
It is the resilience of the human spirit that prompted me to write this blog post and the power of our brains to recover from seemingly impossible situations. I wish Gabby and her husband well for the future.