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Gabrielle Giffords About To Undergo Major Surgery

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BALTIMORE (WJZ)  — Medical experts have called Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ recovery remarkable.  Soon, Giffords will undergo another big surgery less than six months after the Arizona shooting.

Gigi Barnett takes a look at the medical procedures that marks a major milestone in her road to recovery.

Two days after watching her astronaut husband Mark Kelly blast off on the Endeavor, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is preparing for what doctors call the last major medical hurdle in her recovery.  It’s called cranioplasty, a low-risk surgery that replaces the skull, closing a large hole.

“Her brain is not protected by the skull now, it’s protected by a helmet,” said a doctor.

Doctors removed the left part of Giffords’ skull back in January, shortly after she was shot in the head.  It was placed in a sterile bag and frozen.  That procedure stopped the dangerous swelling in her brain. 

“It would be hard to have better news for a patient who’s sustained a gunshot injury to their head,” said Dr. Neal Naff.

Naff runs the neurosurgery unit at St. Joseph Medical Center.  He’s completed cranioplasties on dozens of patients with traumatic head injuries, including gunshot wounds.  Naff says the two-hour surgery is a significant step in Giffords’ swift rehabilitation.

“The doctors who are taking care of her have obviously determined that the swelling in her brain has decreased to normal and therefore they feel comfortable replacing the skull flap,” Naff said.  “This means a lot for her psychologically.  She can return to normal.  She has a significant cosmetic defect right now because a piece of her skull is missing and it would be a defect to see her and that’s going to be restored to normal.”

Doctors say it takes about two days to recover from a cranioplasty, mostly because of the side effects of the anesthesia. 

Doctors say after the procedure, they will monitor Giffords closely to make sure no infection sets in.

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