When President George H.W. Bush came to visit her in the hospital, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords could say only “Wow!” and another word she had been uttering frequently at the time, “chicken.” Months later, when she was shown photos of famous people to see if she recognized faces, Giffords looked at Arnold Schwarzenegger and replied, more or less accurately: “Messin’ around. Babies.”
These and other details emerge in a new book written by Giffords and her husband that offers the most personal look yet at her slow, agonizing recovery after being shot in the head at point-blank range. The memoir, titled Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, describes Giffords’ efforts over the past 10 months to relearn how to walk and talk, and her painful discovery that six people were killed in the Jan. 8 attack outside a Tucson grocery store.
The Associated Press purchased an advance copy of the book, which is set for release Nov. 15. The book is written from the perspective of her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. But Giffords herself delivers the last chapter — a single page of short sentences and phrases called “Gabby’s Voice” in which she says her goal is to get back to Congress. “I will get stronger. I will return,” she wrote.
The book also reveals that the couple, who got married in 2007, was trying to have a baby. Giffords, 41, had undergone several rounds of fertility treatments in the last few years and had hoped to get pregnant early in 2011. The Arizona Democrat was shot just days after being sworn in for her third term, meaning she would have to run for re-election next year. The deadline to formally declare her intentions is in May, 16 months after she was wounded.
Aides to the congresswoman have repeatedly emphasized that her focus is on recovery and that there is no timetable for making a decision about her political future. Giffords stunned colleagues by appearing on the House floor Aug. 1 to vote for the debt ceiling deal, but she has largely avoided the public eye, spending most of her time at TIRR Memorial Hermann, a rehabilitation center in Houston.
Some Democrats had hoped that Giffords would use her newfound fame to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jon Kyl. But a Democratic strategist said Giffords has told Democrats in Arizona that she will not seek a Senate seat. The strategist spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss her plans.
In the memoir, Kelly recounts trying to tell his wife several times that she had been shot while meeting with constituents. But she didn’t fully understand until March 12.
Kelly asked Giffords if she remembered being shot, and she replied that she did, although he said it was hard to know if she really did. She described what she recalled with three words: “Shot. Shocked. Scary.”
Later that day, Kelly told her that six other people had been killed. Giffords was overcome with emotion and had trouble getting through her therapy. It wasn’t until July, weeks after being released from the Houston hospital to Kelly’s home 25 miles away, that she learned who had been killed: a staff member a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl and four other people Giffords did not know.
When Kelly first saw Giffords after the shooting, she was in a coma, with her head partially shaved and bandaged, her face black and blue, and her body connected to tubes. He told her he loved her and assured her she would survive. He said the darkest moment came later in Texas: Giffords realized she couldn’t talk and panicked. Her eyes widened with fear, and she cried uncontrollably.
The book also offers lighter moments, like when former President Bush and his wife, Barbara, visited the Texas hospital, and when Giffords recognized the picture of Schwarzenegger and made an apparent reference to the former California governor’s marital troubles.
Many people with brain injuries struggle to find the right words and repeat the same words and phrases. She eventually learned to talk again. Kelly said she was good at completing passages from the Constitution and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The book was co-written by Jeffrey Zaslow, who collaborated on Randy Pausch’s million-selling The Last Lecture.