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(Reuters) - Doctors performed a tracheotomy on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday, inserting a breathing tube through a hole in her neck and removing her from a ventilator, hospital officials said.
It was the first time Giffords was removed from the ventilator since last Saturday, when she arrived at University Medical Center after a gunman shot her through the head.
Giffords, 40, remains the only patient in critical condition from the shooting that wounded 12 others.
"We're not out of the woods yet," said her neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lemole. "That swelling can sometimes take three days or five days to maximize. But every day that goes by and we don't see an increase, we're slightly more optimistic."
After Saturday's operation to temporarily remove half of her skull, doctors over the past two days had Giffords removed from her sedation and then asked basic commands such as: "Show me two fingers."
"When she did that, we were having a party in there," said Dr. Peter Rhee, adding that Giffords has also managed to give doctors a thumbs-up and has been reaching for her breathing tube, even while sedated. "That's a purposeful movement. That's a great thing. She's always grabbing for the tube."