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UA Medical Center reflects on Tucson tragedy

PHOENIX — It was chaos at University of Arizona Medical Center on Jan. 8, 2011. Patients were being rushed to the hospital’s emergency room, but in Gabrielle Giffords’ operating room, surgeons were calm and focused.

“Just doing a job we were trained to do,” said Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma at the medical center. “I didn’t realize the impact that it was going to have on us overall at the time it was going on.”

Surgeons removed part of Giffords’ skull to prevent further brain damage caused by swelling. Rhee said he’s not surprised that only two years after the operation, Giffords is as sharp as she is.

“I think that we were expecting that she would make this type of recovery and I’m very glad that she’s done so,” Rhee said. “She was very fortunate and so was the rest of the county, I think, in regards to being able to get her back into society.”

Giffords’ surgery may impact how other trauma centers treat patients who’ve suffered gunshots to the head.

Rhee said since the surgery, hospitals from across the country have contacted the medical center.

“We have been asked to look at our dat, and in the last five years, we’ve been able to increase the survival rate after being shot in the brain from 10 percent to 47 percent.”