US lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords has begun speaking as she continues her stunning recovery a month after being shot in the head - and one of her first requests was for toast.
The 40-year-old, shot at point-blank range by a reportedly unstable gunman on January 8, is talking more and more every day as she undergoes intensive rehabilitation in a hospital in Houston, Texas, said a spokesman on Wednesday.
“All I can tell you is that she requested toast... she asked for it at breakfast the other day. And she’s speaking more and more and doing more and more with each passing day,” said the spokesman, C.J. Karamargin.
“Needless to say we are jubilant at this news... We’ve said many times that the congresswoman is improving in all areas, and this is one of them,” he said.
Democrat Giffords was gunned down in a shooting rampage which killed six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, at a public meeting she was giving in Tucson, Arizona.
A bullet went through her brain. She was initially treated in intensive care in Tucson, but was transferred to Houston where she moved to the TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital at the end of January.
“The congresswoman is undergoing rigorous therapy every day, including speech therapy, and (doctors are) doing an absolutely fabulous job of working with her on all sorts of language and speech exercises,” said the spokesman.
“She too is working very hard, and clearly it’s paying off,” he added.
“We have a great combination.... We have a team at a world renowned hospital using their expertise and resources to push her, and we’ve got a congresswoman who has no shortage of grit and determination pushing herself.”
Giffords’ husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, said last week that he will go ahead with leading the final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour - and forecast that his wife would attend the April 19 launch.
“That is Mark’s goal, Mark’s hope, and given the milestones that she’s reaching every day, every week, we are confident she’s going to make Mark happy,” said her spokesman.
The shooting triggered a wave of soul-searching about America’s deeply-divided political culture, highlighted by President Barack Obama in an address at a memorial for the victims in Tucson itself.
The suspected killer, Jared Lee Loughner, has been charged with three federal counts including attempted assassination of a member of Congress. The next court hearing is scheduled for March 9.
Investigators found documents at his home, including an envelope on which were written “Giffords,” “My Assassination” and “I planned ahead,” as well as what looked like Loughner’s signature.
It also emerged that he had bought the gun and ammunition used in the attack legally in local stores, and had left rambling and semi-coherent messages online, suggesting he was angry at the government.
Kelly, 46, took a leave of absence to be at his wife’s side after the shooting, but announced last week that he would resume training to command the 14-day mission, scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA had named a backup commander to train with the other five crew members, but the space agency said Kelly’s experience and many months of mission-specific training made him the best choice.