It was a moment first announced by President Barack Obama during Wednesday night's memorial event honoring those killed or wounded Saturday in Tucson, Arizona.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot once in the head and has been in critical condition since Saturday, opened her eyes for the first time Wednesday.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-FL, both close friends of Giffords (Gillibrand and Giffords both won elections in 2006 and started serving in Congress in 2007), said they were in the room when Giffords opened her eyes for what they described was 30 to 60 seconds.
Gillibrand, who announced early Wednesday that she would be traveling to Tucson with President Obama aboard Air Force One, shared the story of Giffords opening her eyes with Wasserman-Schultz to members of the media.
Here's an excerpt from the press gaggle posted on the White House website:
Q So tell us what it was like in there. You were just standing around a friend of yours and -- just put it in your terms.
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Okay, well, I'll go, and then you'll go -- okay. Well, we were very excited that we were even going to have the chance of getting to visit her hospital room. We didn't know when we first came whether we had that opportunity. And so when we did have the chance, we were so excited to get to see her. And when we came in the room, the doctor was there, her parents were there, Mark is there, and the Speaker -- Speaker Pelosi and Debbie and I went in.
And we just were so excited, so we were telling her how proud we were of her and how she was inspiring the whole nation with her courage and with her strength. And then Debbie and I started joking about all the things we were going to do after she got better. And we were holding her hand and she was responding to our hand-holding. She was rubbing our hands and gripping our hands so we could -- she could really -- we knew she could hear and understand what we were saying and she moved her leg, and so we knew she was responding. And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally.
And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn't opened -- we didn't know that -- and so she started to struggle. And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. And we didn't -- I didn't know what that meant. And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he's really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she's struggling and she's struggling and it's a good -- we couldn't figure it out, maybe 30 seconds, where she's really trying to get her eyes open, like doing this, this, this.
And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just -- can't believe it. I mean, he's so happy. And we're crying because we're witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us.
And so Mark says, he says -- he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up. And so we're waiting and we're waiting and --
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And she didn't at first.
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: And we just thought, okay -- and you could watch -- when you're watching her eyes, she's really trying to focus. Like you could see she hadn't opened her eyes in days. And then instead of giving the thumbs up, she literally raises her whole arm like this -- like this. It was unbelievable. And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him -- she was clearly trying to hug him.
And so like -- she was -- it was such a moment. And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don't understand, this is amazing, what's she's doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.
And so then they decided we had to go because it was a lot -- (laughter) -- of excitement for her and it was -- we just told her how proud we were and how much we loved her and said we'd visit soon.
Gillibrand and Wasserman-Schultz also talked about how they, along with Giffords, became friends.
Q Could you talk a little bit about the friendship between -- among the three of you and how you got to know each other? We talked on the phone about this the other day a little bit, but I'd be interested in knowing a little bit more from you guys about the bond that you share.
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I think I told you the other day, I mean, there's very few of us --
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Young women.
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: -- young women who -- so we naturally gravitate to each other. And Kirsten and I were -- I was assigned as Kirsten's mentor when she --
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Before I ran for office in 2006, I called Debbie and she gave me advice about what was it like to have young children and serve in Congress. So Debbie was instrumental in making me feel comfortable before I even ran for office to be able to know that I could be a good mom and a good legislator at the same time.
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So literally right from when I was elected, these were my two girlfriends. I mean, I met Gabby before I was elected, Kirsten before she was elected -- or Gabby before she -- both of them before they were elected.
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Well, you ran Red to Blue.
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: She ran Red to Blue --
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The year they were elected, right.
It's a great story, and the kind of story we don't normally write covering politics. Usually (and perhaps this is the perception of readers), we write about negative things. Poor job performance, dysfunction, etc.
But this is good news. To have Rep. Giffords open her eyes, even if it was only for a moment, was a positive step. Included in that transcript was Gillibrand and Wasserman-Schultz describing the doctor's reaction and the doctor was very pleased.
There's not a lot of happiness in the story of the Tucson shootings. With six people dead, including a 9-year-old girl, it's hard to find those happy moments, but this is certainly one of them.