Tucson: Representative Gabrielle Giffords on Friday left the Arizona hospital where she was treated after being shot in the head 13 days ago and began her trip to a Texas rehabilitation facility to continue her recovery.
Scores of well-wishers gathered on the street near Tucson`s University Medical Centre, some holding "Get Well Gabby" signs and American flags, one with a "Giffords for Congress" campaign placard, to catch a glimpse of her departure.
They waved and applauded as Giffords` ambulance pulled out of the hospital, led by six police motorcycles and trailed by several other vehicles and a group of Harley-Davidson bikers in leather jackets with "US Marine Corps" stitched on the back.
The congresswoman was discharged from UMC shortly after 9 am local time and was whisked by motorcade through town en route to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the 900-mile flight to Houston, Texas.
Live television footage about 30 minutes after she left the hospital showed Giffords` ambulance parked beside an airplane at the Air Force base.
Once she arrives in Houston, she will be flown by helicopter to TIRR Memorial Hermann Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, a world-class facility that specialises in the treatment of brain and spinal cord injuries, to begin the next, arduous phase of her recovery.
Giffords` husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, shared his thoughts about the moment in a Twitter message early on Friday: "GG going to next phase of her recover today. Very grateful to the docs and nurses at UMC, Tucson PD, Sheriffs Dept....Back in Tucson ASAP!"
On her last full day at UMC, Giffords, 40, was taken in a wheelchair to the hospital`s helipad for some sunshine and fresh air to lift her spirits, accompanied by physical therapists and her husband.
At a news conference earlier that day, doctors said the congresswoman had come a long way in a short time given the severity of her injury.
"She is beginning to stand with assistance, she is scrolling through an iPad -- these are all fantastic advances for her. They do show higher cognitive function," Dr Michael Lemole, chief of neurology at UMC, told reporters.
Giffords was shot through the head on January 8 when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of constituents gathered to meet her outside a Tucson supermarket. Six bystanders including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were killed, and 13 others were wounded, Giffords among them.
A 22-year-old college dropout, Jared Lee Loughner, is charged with the shooting.
Kelly has said he is confident his wife ultimately will "make a full recovery”. Doctors said it was reasonable to expect that she will be able to walk on her own within two months.
Memorial Hermann is regarded as one of the leading facilities of its kind in the nation.
Kelly said its location in Houston, where he has family and where NASA has a major presence, were also considerations in its selection.