The injured politician is communicating with her hands and following simple instructions

By Steve Helling
January 13, 2011 07:00 PM

Five days after being shot in the head, Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords is sitting up and also communicating with her hands.

Doctors at Tucson’s University Medical Center have taken an aggressive approach to the 40-year-old politician’s rehabilitation. On Thursday, they had her sit on the edge of the bed with her legs dangling over her side, neurosurgeon Michael Lemole told reporters in a news conference Thursday.

“She is able to move both of her legs on command,” said Lemole. “That’s huge. We say, ‘Gabrielle, lift your legs up,’ and she lifts both of them up.”

Doctors hope to have Giffords sitting up in a chair by the weekend.

On Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama revealed during a service to pay tribute to that shooting victims that Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.

“That implies that the part of the brain that lets us awake from sleeping, the arousal center, is functioning,” says Lemole, who added that Giffords is able to track movement with her eyes.

The stunning turnaround has surprised doctors, who admit that they can’t fully explain Giffords’s rapid progress. “Miracles happen every day,” says Lemole. “A lot of medicine is outside of our control, so we’re wise to acknowledge miracles.”