Gabrielle Giffords: Child-like Exuberance Does Not Qualify Her to Return to Congress


by Jayne D. Frank

I watched Gabrielle Gifford’s interview with Diane Sawyer with personal interest. Her recovery to date is truly miraculous, and I believe, guided by God.   My sister Pam had experienced a similar brain trauma and damage as Gabrielle, although not from a gunshot, and I was very interested in seeing how Gabrielle’s progress differed from my sister’s progress during the same period of time.  Some things are very different.  For one, Gabrielle Giffords was given the very best surgeons, speech therapists and recovery options that our country has to offer, because of who she was.  My sister, on the other hand, although covered by very good insurance, was given surgery and therapists that ordinary Americans would be given for the same injury.  A fact of life that I personally am saddened by, for my sister is now dead 5 years after her brain trauma.

I saw the recordings, recollections and videos of her progressing from the savage beating that her brain had incurred to her recovery to date and saw vivid similarities to my sister.  Pam had an aneurism which had not received timely clipping.  She laid in ICU for 2 months fighting for her life, going in and out of surgery for drains in her head to release pressure, to insertion of a trach.  Pam, like the fighter she was, survived this ordeal. She was taken off the trach after a few months, and then was transferred to a Rehab unit, much the same as Gabrielle.  Here, pretty much, is where the similarity ends.

Pam also was an extremely intelligent woman with a great career prior to her ordeal.  Pam’s therapy while in the rehab facility, although lengthy and daily, seemed to focus on the ordinary, getting her to say the names of people she knew and places she could remember.  Her physical therapy to try and regain standing and/or walking amounted to putting her in a machine that would raise her body to see if she could stand on her own.  No “gang” of people every day walking her down the hall, with one person almost on the floor as with Gabrielle, and the most expensive part of Pam’s physical therapy might have been the balls thrown to her to try and catch.  No music therapy and none of the most notable therapists from across the country coming in to see her every day.  After 5 months of “therapy” Pam was sent to a nursing home, which would become her “realism” for another 4 years.  Her insurance had run out by then with her only option (since her children were young) to go on Medicaid and Social Security Disability, programs which, by the way, are on the chopping block for others who may come to be in her situation.

Despite the lack, in my opinion, of intensive (expensive) therapy having been given to Pam, she did learn to talk in complete sentences, remembered everything prior to her accident (never regaining her current working memory), she fed herself with one hand, and she also had a great sense of humor much the same as Gabrielle.   She never was afforded continued physical therapy to help her walk although she did feel sensation in her legs-remember the insurance she had worked for all her life had run out.  Her  life after this was pretty much spent looking at 4 walls of her room every day in the nursing home.   She finally succumbed to a very aggressive and fast cancer that ended her life.

Now here comes the end of my sad tale about my sister and the necessary comparison with Gabrielle.  As great as my sister’s mind still was and her childlike exuberance for everything “new” that she learned over again, she was never going to recover enough to continue her career.  To do so would entail drawing from her vast experience of knowledge over the years,  her knowledge of her particular field which involved intensive reading and comprehension, and the ability to recall present events and to persuade others with her knowledge.  Pam did not, and would not have this again.  As far as Gabrielle Giffords is concerned, her family, friends and constituents should be very careful and sensitive, of what you are asking her to achieve.  To say that “she alone” would make the decision whether to come back to Congress is wonderful and loving, but does not face the reality of what being a Congressional Representative entails.  You must be able to read and introduce bills, understand and comprehend the contents thereof, understand the effect of such bills on our country, and make intelligent decisions for voting on those bills for the thousands of people in your district.  Remember, the reports are that Gabrielle has no recent memories, called the working memory, and how could she remember what she read yesterday in order to make a qualified vote tomorrow?

I love the fight Gabrielle is putting up and the progress she is making, but I think we, as outsiders, are expecting too much from her and as such are setting her up for failure.  This is a very personal subject for me and was hard to write, and I hope the readers of this blog, including those in her District in Arizona, take it for what it is – an offering of love to Gabrielle and her family.

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  11. I am inspired by Ms. Giffords in her recovery, but I must say that I do not believe that she will be able to return to Congress. To me, it appears that the head injury has changed her, in the sense that she seems extremely “child-like” in her demeanor. She appears to have the personality of a young child, and not that of a distinguished Congresswoman. Unfortunately, I feel that she is forever changed mentally from this injury, and will not be the same Gabrielle Giffords that she once was, even with all of the therapy she is continuing to receive.

  12. I’m a Speech Pathologist who works with pt.s in rehab settings. I feel you have a realistic and personal perspective regarding Gifford’s recovery. All patients must know the reality of their circumstances to adapt to their new reality; this is true. Purhaps the media is inadvertently giving false hope to people who have experienced similar brain trauma. However, I also believe we still have much to learn about rehabilitating people with brain injury. My hope is that Rep. Giffords tragedy will lead to improved quality of therapy for all people with brain injury. Thanks for your blog.

  13. I too am a speech therapist and Gabrielle Giffords is disabled. What remains to be seen is what will happens to a “normal” person like her who suffer such a severe brain injury under Obamacare. We do know that this legislation, anyone over 70 who has a brain injury will be left to die with”comfort care”.

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