What We Can Learn About TBIs From Gabrielle Giffords | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Gage Skidmore via Flickr -- https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/30122479703The pointblank shooting of then-U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in a Tucson-area grocery store shocked America. The Jan. 8, 2011, attack left six others dead, as well as 13 more people injured. But the former congresswoman remains in the national headlines while fighting very publicly to recover from her massive head trauma and traumatic brain injuries.


Giffords performed a great service by allowing reporters and cameras to document her months-long hospital stay, years of physical and occupational therapy and, recently, her still-halting, slurred speech and jerky movements as she pursues policies to curb gun violence.

She is, however, just one member of a large group. According to government estimates, “Annually, over 2.5 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries, 275,000 visit emergency rooms, over 50,000 die and approximately 5.3 million live with a long-term or lifelong disability at a cost of over $76 billion.”

The harsh truths about TBIs that Giffords and her family revealed include

  • The need for extensive, continued medical care. After being in an induced coma and on a ventilator, Giffords had to relearn how talk, walk and write. She continues receiving therapy and specialized treatment.
  • The difficulty in keeping one’s job. Giffords resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives. She took up advocacy, but making such a career change is not realistic for the overwhelming majority of TBI victims.
  • The struggle to maintain personal relationships. On the one-year anniversary of the shooting, Giffords’ husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, revisited the site of the shooting with his wife. There, he spoke of how the couple’s marriage had changed due to the stress of dealing with the consequences of the TBI. As Virginia head and brain injury lawyers, we hear these exact sentiments expressed by our clients.

Many avoidable errors can cause irreversible brain damage. Car accidents, especially those involving motorcycle riders, bicyclists and pedestrians, account for many TBIs. But slips and falls at businesses, anesthesia errors, birth injuries and assaults also leave too many people facing lifelong struggles with brain injuries.

We admire Giffords for her courage in showing the world how a TBI changes every aspect of a person’s life. Simply surviving and returning home from the hospital does not constitute a happy ending. Even finding a new vocation cannot relieve permanent disabilities and prevent other challenges. When more people understand these realities, things become slightly easier for everyone living with a TBI.