Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her first public appearance Monday night at a NASA event in Houston since being shot in January. She entered in a wheelchair and was greeted with a standing ovation.
When her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, received the Spaceflight Medal – awarded to shuttle astronauts who safely return home from their missions – she rose from her wheelchair to hug and kiss him. According to an ABC report, Giffords and Kelly held hands most of the event.
“She was very animated. She was smiling,” said ABC News reporter Gina Sunseri who noted that Giffords seemed to be in good spirits. “She was chatting with the people who were sitting next to her.”
Giffords’ staff took the events of the evening as a good indication.
“For us it is clear the congresswoman’s physical strength is improving as well as her cognitive and verbal abilities,” Giffords’ spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, told CNN.
Giffords was shot in the head January 8 at a constituent event in Tuscon, Ariz. Six people were killed that day and 13 others were wounded. Giffords underwent surgery last month to repair her skull, and after months of rehab, was released from the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston on June 15.
After being released, she made a visit to Tucson for the first time since being shot. She visited family, took a ride downtown, visited her new constituency office, attended a reunion with staffers and, from the air, viewed the devastation from the Monument Fire near Sierra Vista, which is part of her congressional district.
Kelly announced on his Facebook page last week that he is retiring from the U.S. Navy and leaving NASA, effective October 1. Kelly also told The Arizona Republic recently that he and Giffords plan to write a memoir detailing the events of their lives before and after she was shot.