Politics: The Resolve of Gabrielle Giffords, by Pranada Devi
Gabrielle Giffords is a member of the US House of Representatives (Democratic, for Arizona’s eighth congressional district.) She is the third woman in Arizona’s history to be elected to the US Congress, and is currently serving her third term. During her time as a Congresswoman, she was named by the Mental Health Association of Arizona as the 2004 Legislator of the Year for her work on bills related to mental health. She also earned the Sierra Club’s Most Valuable Player award in 2005. She is a strong supporter of renewable energy, particularly solar energy. She published a report in 2007 entitled The Community Solar Energy Initiative, Solar Energy in Southern Arizona, observing that Arizona has enough sunshine to power the entire United States.
One year ago, Rep. Giffords was shot in the head in what is thought to be an assassination attempt. Her journey in the past year is an awe-inspiring example of grace and determination.
On January 8, 2011, Giffords was holding a constituent meeting called “Congress On Your Corner” at a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. A 22-year-old man approached Giffords, drew a pistol and shot her through the head at point-blank range. He then opened fire on the 20-30 people who were present, hitting 18. Six of them died, including United States District Court for the District of Arizona Chief Judge John Roll, Giffords’s community outreach director Gabe Zimmerman, and nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, a girl who had been featured in a book called Faces of Hope as one of 50 babies born on September 11, 2001.
The attacker was tackled, as he attempted to reload his gun, by 74-year-old retired US Army Colonel Bill Badger, who himself had been shot. Other bystanders assisted in subduing the attacker. He was arrested and has since been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for his actions. His name is intentionally not included in this article.
Daniel Hernandez Jr., an intern to Giffords, had run over to her immediately after she was shot. He propped her up to keep her from choking on her blood, and did his best to stanch the bleeding, staying with her until emergency services arrived. She was able to communicate with him through hand squeezes that she was conscious, responsive, and in pain.
Giffords was rushed to hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery. Part of her skull was removed to prevent further brain damage from swelling, and she was placed into a medically induced coma. Four days later, on January 12, 2011, she opened her eyes for the first time. She began physical therapy in mid-January. Her condition was upgraded to “serious”, and then to “good”. In late April, Giffords’ doctors reported that her physical, cognitive, and language production abilities had improved significantly, placing her in the top 5 percent of patients recovering from similar injuries. That spring, she was able to travel to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to witness the 25th and final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. In June, she was released from the hospital to continue rehabilitation therapy at home.
On August 1, she made her first public appearance in the House of Representatives and was met with a standing ovation. This fall, she gave an interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer that also included home video footage of her often grueling rehabilitation work. One video, taken just two and a half weeks after the shooting, shows the pain and effort it takes her just to lift a thumb. She has lost 50 per cent of the vision in both eyes, and much of her ability to express herself through language; she is continuing to work at improving her speaking skills. She now writes with her left hand. When Sawyer asked her in the interview what she wanted more than anything, her response was “Better. Better. Better. Working hard.” She vows to return to Congress and work for the American people again.
Pranada Devi is a government communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She manages the Politics, Books and Activism sections for Parvati Magazine in addition to serving as Managing Editor for the magazine overall. She has followed politics at all levels for two decades. She serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects.