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Personal Take on Brain Injuries and Senate Bids

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While the buzz is still only a whisper, the idea that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) might be well enough to run for Arizona’s open Senate seat next year is suddenly a hot topic.

Giffords’ “rapid recovery from the shooting creates at least the possibility that she could make the race, according to her allies,” Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote recently.

One of the Congresswoman’s Arizona colleagues, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D), went even further when he was quoted in The Hill newspaper as saying there was a “distinct possibility” that she would run for the seat.

Given the lack of details about the Congresswoman’s recovery and my concern that media reports may have presented an overly upbeat description of her progress, I’m conflicted by talk from Democrats and the media of Giffords running for the Senate this cycle. Like everyone else, I wish her the speediest and most complete recovery from the tragedy, but that hope is not inconsistent with a clear-eyed assessment of her ability to run a Senate race.

Every brain injury is different and every person’s body responds differently, so it’s impossible to know what tomorrow will bring for the Congresswoman. I’m not a medical doctor, but after my son’s serious car accident a little more than a year ago, I probably have more experience than the average reporter or Capitol Hill staffer when it comes to brain injuries.

My son didn’t have a bullet rip through one side of his brain, but he did have a life-threatening traumatic brain injury that put him in a coma for days, rendered the left side of his body without movement for weeks and raised questions for a time about the quality of life that he could expect.

We hear repeatedly what dramatic progress the Congresswoman has made since doctors in Tucson, Ariz., saved her life, how she is giving her husband a neck massage, smiling at friends, talking with visitors and identifying a photo of President George W. Bush.

On Jan. 19, Fox News reported “Giffords walking on her own two feet.” The next day, a cbsnews.com headline declared that she was “on her own two feet, looking out window.” And a few weeks later, msnbc.com (and others) noted that she “has recovered enough ... to ask for toast.”

More recently, her husband, Mark Kelly, told NBC’s Brian Williams that “you ask her a question and she will answer it.”

“You two are having what would have to be called conversations,” Williams glowed.

These are all terrific steps in what will be a long recovery, but they convey the sense that Giffords is doing everyday things, that her life is more or less returning to normal. I wonder whether that is the case, though I certainly understand the joy and excitement that family and friends feel from every small step forward.

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