Perhaps the most powerful moment of President Obama’s moving address yesterday came when he announced that Representative Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time during a visit from some of her colleagues in Congress.
Now, Jim Hoft of the Gateway Pundit blog suggests that moment did not happen as Obama described it. He points to a news article suggesting that Giffords had opened her eyes before yesterday and, in quite a leap, accuses the president of lying.
Hoft points to an article that appeared Sunday in the Sonoran Chronicle, which reported: “Giffords can open her eyes, but because she is on a ventilator she can’t speak, said Rhee.” That article has since been pulled from the website. But there are several other examples of reports that Giffords could open her eyes – including one from Reuters and another from a Canadian wire service. None of them quote doctors directly making the claim.
Where the doctors are quoted, they say that Giffords did not open her eyes. Dr. Randall Friese, who examined Giffords when she arrived at the hospital, told CNN on Sunday “When I examined her, she did not speak. She did not open her eyes. She did squeeze my hand very aggressively.”
And Dr. Peter Rhee, in a televised news conference on Sunday morning, also said that Giffords was unable to open her eyes.
Question: Has she -- you said it has been simple commands. Has she verbalized at all? And we were also told that there was a reviewing of sorts with her husband last night? And she did recognize him. Can you talk about that?
RHEE: No, we can't get into too much more detail than what we already have. But I can tell you right now with the type of surgery, her eyes, she can't open her eyes at this point, mechanical standpoints, and she's also on the ventilator, so she can't speak at this time.
So where do the conflicting claims come from? It’s hard to say exactly, but a Sunday news release from the University of Arizona might be the source of the confusion. That release reported that Giffords had been able to follow simple commands and, contradicting the doctors’ on-the-record accounts, implied that she had been able to open her eyes.
Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr., a leading authority on skull base surgery and section chief of neurosurgery at the UA department of surgery, performed surgery on Giffords with Dr. Martin Weinand, professor of surgery in the neurosurgery section.
Lemole described the sequence of events that helped create the circumstances that resulted in the "cautiously optimistic" outlook of UMC physicians. Giffords was shot in the left side of her head, was responsive to voice commands and was in the operating room within 38 minutes.
The medical team was able to control her breathing and remove pressure in the brain."Gabrielle Giffords can follow simple commands this morning, but we know that brain swelling can take a turn, so we remain cautiously optimistic," said Lemole. He described simple commands as: "can you open your eyes" or "can you raise two fingers." While these seem like simple tasks, these tell doctors much about her condition.
Subsequent reporting, however, confirmed the original accounts from the doctors. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Giffords “is not able to open her eyes.” And the New York Times added some detail: “Ms. Giffords is unable to speak because she is connected to a ventilator and unable to open her eyes, which doctors have covered with patches.”
UPDATE: Jake Tapper clarifies:
President Obama’s dramatic news at last night’s memorial service in Tucson that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ has just minutes before opened her left eye for the first time since the shooting has created some confusion in light of news from doctors that Giffords “could open her eyes” on Sunday.
But doctors today provided a simple explanation: Wednesday was the first time Giffords opened her eyes on her own, which Giffords' neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole Thursday called “a major milestone.”
“When we examine patients, particularly in this state we have to ‘wake them up,’ give them some stimulus, and with that stimulus they might crack their eyes,” Lemole said today. “That’s very different from speaking to someone and having them open their eyes, or having them open their eyes spontaneously in response to familiarity.”
“Eyes” in the case of Giffords is actually just “eye” since her right eye is bandaged.
On Wednesday evening at the memorial service, President Obama said “I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak. And I want to tell you, her husband Mark is here and he allows me to share this with you – right after we went to visit – a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues from Congress were in the room -- Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. Gabby opened her eyes. Gabby opened her eyes so I can tell you she knows we are here, she knows that we love her and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly what will be a difficult journey.”
The president’s remarks were meant, the White House says, to convey that she had opened her eyes on her own for the first time.
On January 9, Giffords’ doctors told reporters that on Sunday Giffords could open her eyes. Today they clarified that they meant she could open her eye in response to stimuli.
Doctors told the ABC News’ Medical Unit that the news reported Wednesday is significant but should not be overstated.
“Eye opening is a great sign, but it's to be expected in anyone who's already been shown to follow commands,” said Dr. Joshua Bederson, Professor and Chair of Neurosurgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “In that regard it’s not ‘a miracle,’ but the fact that she is doing so well after a point blank gun shot wound to the head is in fact a miracle.”