May 17, 2011 7:36 PM
HOUSTON (AP) - Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will undergo surgery on Wednesday to place an implant where a piece of her skull was removed by doctors after she was shot in January.
The surgery was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with Giffords' care. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the information has not officially been released.
Giffords had a piece of her skull removed shortly after the shooting to allow room for brain swelling, and has been wearing a helmet adorned with an Arizona state flag. Doctors had said when the three-term Democratic congresswoman arrived in Houston in late January they hoped to do the cranial surgery in May.
Dr. Richard Riggs, chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the surgery to place the plastic implant is relatively simple. Recovery is short -
a day or two at the most - and is mostly from the effects of anesthesia, he said.
"This gives her quality of life because she won't have to worry about the helmet and protection when moving around," said Riggs, who is not involved in Giffords' care.
The implant is placed under the scalp, allowing hair to grow on top so it is not visible.
The surgery, the latest sign Giffords' recovery is progressing as planned, comes just days after she returned from Florida where she watched her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, rocket into space.
When Endeavour's five Americans and one Italian got off the ground on Monday, Giffords watched in private from a wheelchair on the roof of the launch control center and remarked, "good stuff, good
stuff," according to her staff.
Giffords returned to Houston and rehab late Monday, hours after the launch.
While some patients don't have this surgery until after they are released from the hospital, Giffords' operation indicates she is recovering according to schedule.
That Giffords would watch the shuttle launch seemed improbable a little more than four months ago. The would-be assassin shot her in the head, critically wounding her, killing six people and injuring
12 others at a political event in her hometown of Tucson, Ariz.
The bullet pierced the left side of Giffords' brain, affecting speech and movement on her right side.
Her doctors at a Houston rehabilitation center have said she has made remarkable progress in what will be a long recovery.
The next step will be to release her from the hospital. Then she will continue speech, occupational and physical therapy at an