PHOENIX — (AP) — Two photos of a smiling Rep. Gabrielle Giffords were released early Sunday by her office, her hair shorn short but few other telling signs of her gunshot wound to the head.
The Facebook photos, taken May 17 outside her Houston hospital, are the first clear snapshots of Giffords since the shooting five months ago during a constituent meet-and-greet in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson.
The photos showed how far she has come since she was wounded in the left side of her forehead, but her spokeswoman, Pia Carusone, has cautioned that Giffords still has a long way to go in her recovery.
They show the congresswoman outside, the greenery of the hospital lawn in the background. She smiled directly into the camera in one, while in the other she smiled downward as she sat next to her mother, Gloria Giffords.
Giffords has been in a Houston rehab facility since two weeks after the Jan. 8 shooting. Six people were killed and 13 were injured, including Giffords.
Carusone said Friday that Giffords could be released sometime this month.
She said doctors and family are considering "many factors" while making the critical next-step decision to release Giffords from TIRR Memorial Hermann, the hospital where she has been undergoing intensive daily rehabilitation since late January.
"We're looking at before the end of the month. We're looking at early July," Carusone said. "We don't have a date."
But in an interview published this week in the Arizona Republic, Carusone made clear that Giffords remains a shadow of her former self as she has difficulty stringing together sentences and relies heavily on gestures and facial expressions to communicate. She also faces some difficulty in expressing bigger, more complex thoughts, Carusone said.
While Giffords' release from the hospital after five months of intensive inpatient therapy will mark an important step in her recovery, she still must undergo months of outpatient rehabilitation that will include speech, occupational and physical therapy.