It has been just over a year since US Congress Representative Gabrielle Giffords experienced a traumatic brain injury as a result of a shooting in Tucson, AZ. While Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is now estimated to affect over 1.5 million Americans each year, with many of those wounded from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Giffords case has helped shed some new light on the way the media is focusing on TBI.
A variety of stories were in the media after the January 2011 shooting focusing on Giffords recovery, sometimes quoted as “remarkable.” Her yearlong treatment has come through a mixture of the services of Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Houston, home based therapy, and an intensive therapy program based in Ashville, NC. These programs involved traditional therapy approaches common after a TBI such as occupational, physical, & speech therapy, as well as music and animal based therapy programs. Approximately 4 months after Giffords injury, her doctors placed her in the top 5th percentile for patients recovering from similar injuries.
At a recent vigil to honor the other victims of the Tucson shooting, which killed 6 and left 12 others injured, Gabrielle Giffords recited the Pledge of Allegiance in front of hundreds of people, as they quietly chanted “Gabby, Gabby” in encouragement. In a CBS interview with Diane Sawyer she was asked about her intentions to run for reelection this fall; her reply indicated that she will continue to focus on her recovery. In other interviews her husband, Captain Kelly, has been attributed to saying that some days he thinks she could do it; other days it seems it would just be too much.
Giffords’s ordeal has contributed to an already growing awareness about the need for treatment after experiencing a TBI. Many of the stories over 2011 have pointed out that most individuals do not have access to the same type of intensive recovery program as Giffords. While research in recent years has proved that these treatment programs are valuable in recovery after a TBI, insurance companies still rarely cover these services. “Cognitive rehabilitation services designed to improve cognitive functioning after a brain injury are not supported by reliable scientific evidence of efficacy,” according to a 2008 Tricare coverage manual.
Other aspects of recovery after TBI have been exemplified in the media using Giffords as a model, such as the effects of TBI on marriage, returning to work after a TBI, and generalizations made of persons who have experienced TBI.
While the January 2011 shooting was an awful tragedy which affects the lives of many, a positive side has emerged out of it; more people are becoming aware of how seriously TBI affects not just an individual but a family. Giffords case represents that having more programs to intensely focus on an individual’s recovery yields positive results, and that better funding gives more people hope that they will be able to return to a better quality of life after TBI. Hopefully Giffords example can continue to shed light on how TBI affects so many people each year, and can continue to push for better programs and funding for recovery.