Tucson, Arizona: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is opening both eyes, moving both legs and arms and is responding to friends and family.
Her doctors call it a "major milestone" in her recovery.
"We're hoping that she crosses through many more," said her neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole.
Her remarkable recovery five days after being shot through the head has provided a much-needed dose of jubilation after a tragic week that left the nation in mourning.
Giffords and 18 others were shot Saturday when a gunman opened fire at a meet-and-greet she was hosting outside a supermarket in her own hometown. Six people died, including a 9-year-old girl whose funeral was Thursday.
The three-term Democrat first opened her eyes on her own Wednesday evening while surrounded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and close friends from Congress.
Her left eye, which was unbandaged, started to flicker and she struggled a bit to widen it.
"Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes," her husband urged her.
Kelly told her to give him a thumbs-up if she could hear him. She did more than that. She slowly raised her left arm.
President Barack Obama, who had just left her bedside to speak at a tribute for the shooting victims, announced the news to the thousands gathered in the University of Arizona arena — and to the world.
The arena erupted in thunderous applause. There were tears. And hugs.
First lady Michelle Obama embraced Kelly, sitting beside her.
Giffords' movements left her friends astonished.
"It felt like we were watching a miracle," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was at the bedside. "The strength that you could see flowing out of her, it was like she was trying to will her eyes open."
At a news conference Thursday at Tucson's University Medical Center, Lemole smiled when asked if it was a miracle. Then, he spoke carefully, as those trained to operate on the most delicate of organs do. He knows all too well the setbacks that could lurk.
"Miracles happen everyday," he said. "In medicine, we like to very much attribute them to either what we do or others do around us. But a lot of medicine is outside of our control and we're wise to acknowledge miracles."
He called her movements a "leap forward." Her doctors said her progress was not completely unexpected, but still remarkable.
Giffords was still in critical condition, with part of her skull removed to allow for brain swelling.
Few people survive a bullet to the brain — just than 10 percent — and some who do end up in a vegetative state.
The fact that Giffords is alert and moving "puts her in the exceptional category," Lemole said.
The doctors figured Giffords would open her eyes soon enough and were pleased that it coincided with Obama's visit. She can now keep them open for up to 15 minutes at a time.
Trauma chief Dr. Peter Rhee said Giffords acts like a bleary-eyed person just waking up.
Giffords yawns, rubs her eyes and tries to focus, he said. Doctors don't yet know if she can recognize her surroundings, but there are signs her eyes are beginning to track movements.
She is receiving physical therapy, which includes dangling her legs from her bed while propped up by nurses. Doctors hope to have her sit in a chair by Friday.
First Published: Friday, January 14, 2011, 13:54