HOUSTON (May 15, 2011)

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords reached a major milestone in her recovery today when she was discharged from TIRR Memorial Hermann and will soon begin outpatient treatment at the same facility.

Doctors treating the Arizona congresswoman say her cognitive abilities and physical strength have improved to the point where she no longer needs to remain a patient in the hospital.

"Congresswoman Giffords has shown clear, continuous improvement from the moment she arrived at TIRR five months ago," said Dr. Gerard Francisco, the hospital's chief medical officer. "We are very excited that she has reached the next phase of her rehabilitation and can begin outpatient treatment. We have no doubt that she will continue to make significant strides in her recovery."

Giffords, who was shot in the head on Jan. 8, will move into the home of her husband, Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, in League City, Texas.

"Gabby gives her all to everything she does and that's exactly what she's been doing at TIRR since Jan. 26," said Kelly. "The remarkable progress she has made since then is a testament to both her single-minded determination to get better and the team of medical professionals overseeing her care."

As an outpatient, Giffords' intensive therapy program will not change. Her care will continue to be overseen by Dr. Francisco, who also serves as the chairman of the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The congresswoman will continue to work with the same rehab team that she has worked with so far.

"This continuity of care will ensure that the congresswoman's recovery continues to go well," Francisco said. "The benefit - and we expect it to be significant - is that she will be able to leave TIRR every afternoon."

At Kelly's home, Giffords will be assisted by a 24-hour home health provider.

"Anyone who knows Gabby knows that she loves being outside," Kelly said. "Living and working in a rehab facility for five months straight has been especially challenging for her. She will still go to TIRR each day but from now on, when she finishes rehab, she will be with her family."

On May 18, Giffords underwent a cranioplasty procedure to replace a portion of her skull that had been removed to relieve the pressure of swelling on her brain. The cranioplasty replaced the missing skull fragment with a ceramic implant, around which bone cells will grow in time.

A permanent shunt was also implanted to drain fluids into her abdominal cavity via a plastic tube. Both procedures were successful. Doctors removed the stitches from the cranioplasty two weeks ago, a final step in the healing process. 

Giffords started rehabilitation in the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center Neurotrauma intensive care unit (ICU) on Friday, January 21, when she was flown from Arizona to Houston, and then brought by Life Flight helicopter to the hospital's level one trauma center. She was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann on Wednesday, January 26.

During her stay at Memorial Hermann, the congresswoman has been under the care of a multidisciplinary team that also includes Dr. Imoigele Aisiku, director of Neurocritical Care, Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann and associate professor and vice chairman of Critical Care, department of Neurosurgery at UTHealth, and Dr. Bryan Oh, neurotrauma surgeon, Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann, and assistant professor of neurotrauma, UTHealth Medical School.

Founded in 1959, TIRR Memorial Hermann is one of very few hospitals in the country designated as a model system for traumatic brain injury by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. It has been named to the "Best Hospitals" list by U.S. News and World Report Magazine for 21 years, every year the list has been published.

TIRR Memorial Hermann is also home to one of the top residency programs in neurological physical therapy, more than 57,000 outpatient visits occur annually at TIRR Memorial Hermann, reflecting the knowledge, compassion and dedication of physicians, nurses, researchers and staff involved in direct patient care.