In January 2011, US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in an attack on her entourage at a constituent meeting near Tucson. Six people died and thirteen others were injured. She survived, and her recovery has been a remarkable story. At TED2014 she took the stage with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, for a Q&A with the head of the Paley Center for Media, Pat Mitchell. Giffords suffered from aphasia as part of her injury, and speaking is still difficult, so her answers were short, and much of the speaking was done by Kelly. This is an edited set of highlights from that Q&A.
Pat Mitchell: Has your recovery been an effort to create a new Gabby Giffords or reclaim the old?
Gabby Giffords: A new one, better, stronger, tougher.
What’s the hardest part of the recovery?
GG: Communication, really hard.
MK: Yeah, she has aphasia. The part of your brain where those communication centers are is on the left side of your head where the bullet passed through… Only my wife is someone who could be injured and have such hard time communicating, meeting with speech therapist, and then a month ago she says, “I want to learn Spanish, again.”
Where did you meet?
MK: When we met, oddly enough, it was the last time we were in Vancouver, headed to China on what I would call a boondoggle, and what Gabby would call an Important Fact-Finding Mission. We were friends for a long time. And then, where did we go on our first date?
GG: Death row.
MK: Yep, our first date was to death row at the Florence State Prison in Arizona, just outside of her state senate district. She had to go to a function and couldn’t get anyone else to go. I said, of course I’ll go to death row. That was our first date. We’ve been together ever since.
What’s life like day to day?
MK: (pointing to the screen) That’s Nelson, Gabby’s service dog. We got him from prison — we have a lot of connections to prison apparently. He was raised by a murder in Massachusetts, and she’s done a great job with him.
How do you maintain your optimism?
GG: I want to make the world a better place.
What’s on the agenda now?
MK: That’s our political action committee, trying to get members of Congress to take a more serious look at gun violence in this country, and pass reasonable legislation. [applause] It’s personal to us, but it wasn’t what happened to Gabby that got us involved, it was the 20 murdered children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. The national response has been pretty much nothing. We’re trying to change that… We’re gun owners, we support gun rights. This issue, like many others, has become very polarized and political, we’re trying to bring some balance to the debate.
At the end, Mitchell gives Giffords the stage to present a short talk she had done the enormous work to prepare, on the idea she wanted to leave the audience with:
Hello everyone. Thank you for inviting us here today. It’s been a long haul but I’m getting better. I’ve been working hard: lots of therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, yoga too. I’m fighting hard to make the world a better place and you can too. Get involved with your community, be a leader, set an example, be passionate, be your best.