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Giffords Is 'Starting To Become Aware Of Her Surroundings,' Doctor Says

Along with opening her eyes and following commands, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is "starting to become aware of her surroundings," Dr. G. Michael Lemole, section chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center in Tucson, just told reporters.

The congresswoman has made "a major move forward," Lemole added, as she continues to cope with injuries received when she was shot in the head Saturday during a rampage that left 12 other people injured from gunshots and six people dead.

Lemole said that one reason Giffords may have opened her eyes last evening was having other members of Congress visiting. "The unexpected" visitors after several days of family members and doctors may have helped stimulate Giffords, he said. And that's another good sign.

Lemole and Dr. Peter Rhee, the hospital's trauma chief, cautioned that Giffords remains in critical condition. The next major moment in her treatment, Rhee said, will be when doctors feel they can remove her breathing tube permanently (Rhee has previously said the congresswoman can breathe on her own, but that the tube is being left in to assist her).

Giffords' therapy at this point, the doctors said, includes "dangling" her on the edge of her hospital bed, which involves having her sit with her legs off the bed so that she can try to swing them. "She is able to move both of those legs to command," Lemole said, "which is huge."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.