Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Pembroke Pines, traveled with President Obama aboard Air Force One to Tucson to see her friend and colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and attend “Together We Thrive” at the University of Arizona. She recounted the emotional moment when Giffords opened her eyes for the first time:
“It was just really, it felt like a miracle, it felt like we were watching a miracle,” the Weston Democrat told reporters. “We just wanted so badly to be there for her as her friends. The strength that you could see just flowing out of her … it was like she was trying to will her eyes open.” …
“Other than the birth of my kids this was the most incredible feeling — to see literally one of your closest friends come back to you, to come back to her family, to come back to her friends We know how strong Gabby is. You could see all the strength pouring out of her, to touch her husband.”
Her colleague, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was also on the plane:
“We were very excited that we were even going to have the chance of getting to visit her hospital room. … 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 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 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 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 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 … ”
President Obama also spoke of that moment in his speech, leading to tears in the audience. His aides reportedly did not know he would mention it in his remarks.