How Did Gabrielle Giffords Survive Being Shot in the Head?

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Reuters/Giffords for Congress/PK Weis/Handout

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords with her husband Mark Kelly

One of the only bright spots from a dark weekend was that Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still alive after being shot in the head at close range by the alleged suspect, Jared Loughner. Doctors are cautiously optimistic about her condition.

But how is she still alive when the severity of such an incident at close range would seemingly kill many victims? Firstly, the speedy actions of those on the scene in Tuscon, Arizona played a major part. Daniel Hernandez, who is an intern on Giffords’s staff, is believed to have applied pressure to the entry wound to staunch the bleeding, and pulled her on to his lap so she wouldn’t choke on her own blood.

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After paramedics took her to hospital, it was the trauma surgeon Peter Rhee and his team who then went to work. Rhee told reporters that Giffords was lucky that the bullet stayed on one side and didn’t penetrate the areas of the brain that are almost always fatal. And fortune has seemed to favor her thus far. Dr Richard Besser, ABC News’ medical editor, said, “She has already beat a lot of odds. Two-thirds of people who are shot in the head never make it to the hospital.”

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Concerns remain: the possibility of her brain swelling means that Giffords is heavily sedated in a coma-like state that helps to rest her brain. Neurosurgeon Dr Michael Lemole removed half of her skull, with the bone being preserved at a cold temperature, which means that it can be reattached when the swelling hopefully subsides. Understandably, her medical team is reluctant to speculate on Giffords’s recovery chances with Lemole explaining that it may take months or years. He said on CBS’s The Early Show Monday that, “the best way to describe her this morning is that she’s holding her own.” A watching world will hope that Giffords continues to do so. (via TIME)