The US congresswoman shot through the head in a deadly Arizona shooting rampage can smile again and has recovered from successful eye surgery, medics said Monday.
Democratic representative Gabrielle Giffords was upgraded to "serious" from "critical" over the weekend, and on Monday her astronaut husband said she had given him a neck massage in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Her ability to smile "implies she is recognizing him and that she's interacting perhaps with a more familiar way with him," said Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon treating her at the University Medical Center in Tucson.
He added that the 40-year-old lawmaker had reawakened after the surgery to remove bone fragments from her eye socket and was "at the same baseline" as before the procedure.
"At this time, we're hoping to continue tying up loose ends to get ready for the third stage of Giffords's recovery, rehabilitation," Lemole said.
Giffords's husband Mark Kelly, a NASA space shuttle astronaut, meanwhile said in a television interview with ABC News that she had improved to the point of giving him a back rub.
"It is so typical of her. She's in the ICU, you know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage," he said. "I just stayed there because it seemed to comfort her."
He admitted, however that she has a "long road ahead of her."
"We know that the recovery from these kind of injuries isn't measured in days and weeks. It's more like weeks and months. And so she's got a long, tough road ahead of her. But, you know, she's a really, really tough woman."
Kelly also said he would be willing to meet with the parents of 22-year-old Jared Loughner, a troubled loner who has been charged in the shooting spree, which killed six people and wounded more than a dozen.
The dead from the shooting spree included Christina-Taylor Green, a nine-year-old girl who had gone to the rally for a school civics project, and John Roll, a 63-year-old federal judge.
"I'd probably see them," Kelly said, referring to Loughner's parents.
"I don't think it's their fault. It's not the parents' fault. I'd like to think I'm a person that's somewhat forgiving. And, I mean, they've got to be hurting in this situation as much as anybody."
Kelly was set to lead the last flight of the Endeavour shuttle in April, and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) has designated a backup commander in case he is not able to take part in the mission.