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Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope

Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope

4.3 9
by Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly, Jeffrey Zaslow (With)

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From one of the most admired and beloved couples in recent American history, an extraordinarily moving story of public service, risk-taking, romance—and the journey toward recovery. This book delivers hope and redemption in the face of the tragic shooting, and introduces two unforgettable heroes.



From one of the most admired and beloved couples in recent American history, an extraordinarily moving story of public service, risk-taking, romance—and the journey toward recovery. This book delivers hope and redemption in the face of the tragic shooting, and introduces two unforgettable heroes.

AS INDIVIDUALS, CONGRESSWOMAN GABRIELLE GIFFORDS and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, showed Americans how optimism, an adventurous spirit, and a call to service can help change the world. As a couple, they became a national example of the healing power to be found in deeply shared love and courage. Their arrival in the world spotlight came under the worst of circumstances. On January 8, 2011, while meeting with her constituents in Tucson, Arizona, Gabby was the victim of an assassination attempt that left six people dead and thirteen wounded. Gabby was shot in the head; doctors called her survival “miraculous.”

As the nation grieved and sought to understand the attack, Gabby remained in private, focused on her against-all-odds recovery. Mark spent every possible moment by her side, as he also prepared for his final mission as commander of space shuttle Endeavour.

Now, as Gabby’s health continues to improve, the couple is sharing their remarkable untold story. Intimate, inspiring, and unforgettably moving, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope provides an unflinching look at the overwhelming challenges of brain injury, the painstaking process of learning to communicate again, and the responsibilities that fall to a loving spouse who wants the best possible treatment for his wife. Told in Mark’s voice and from Gabby’s heart, the book also chronicles the lives that brought these two extraordinary people together—their humor, their ambitions, their sense of duty, their long-distance marriage, and their desire for family.

Gabby and Mark made a pledge to tell their account as honestly as possible, and they have done so in riveting detail. Both Gabby and Mark have lived large public lives, but this book takes readers behind many closed doors—from the flight deck of the space shuttle to the cloakrooms of Congress to the hospital wards where Gabby struggled to reclaim herself with the help of formidable medical teams and devoted family and friends.

Questions are answered with unvarnished candor. How do Gabby and Mark feel about the angry political discourse that was swirling in America at the time of the shooting, and that remains prevalent today? How do they see government living up to the highest possible ideals? And how do they understand and mourn the loss of the people who did not survive that day? Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope is a reminder of the power of true grit, the patience needed to overcome unimaginable obstacles, and the transcendence of love. In the story of Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, we all can see the best in ourselves. As Mark and Gabby’s friends have said: “The two of them are America as we dream it can be.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Astronaut Kelly's 2007 marriage to Arizona Congresswoman Giffords marked another milestone in lives dedicated to the betterment of the state of Arizona, the nation, and the space program. But when Giffords was shot in the head in early 2011, the couple's lives took a direction neither could've anticipated. Told by Kelly, this stirring account traces family stories, the logistics of living through a medical nightmare, and his simultaneous struggle to command his final space mission. Determined to focus on that command, yet driven by his desire to meet Giffords's needs, Kelly split care-giving duties with her mother, recalling that throughout the ordeal "my wife was relentless." Later, the painstaking procedures of cranial surgery are detailed, along with the slow, miraculous recovery that culminated in Giffords's trip to Washington, D.C. to vote on the debt ceiling bill. Other achievements and challenges during the year—particularly for Giffords's loyal staffers—are also duly noted. Giffords herself, in simple, coherent language, provides a final page about her ongoing recovery to conclude this picture of a victorious human spirit. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
“An extraordinary tale…of love, of unthinkable trauma, of a heroic partnership… Redefining for the world what it means to be a fighter.”People

“A gripping and inspirational memoir…”—St. Petersburg Times

“A picture of a victorious human spirit.”Publishers Weekly

“Nothing but inspirational.”Kirkus Reviews

“A story of bravery and perseverance.”Palm Beach Post

Product Details

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Read an Excerpt

The Beach

I used to be able to tell just what my wife, Gabby, was thinking.

I could sense it in her body language—the way she leaned forward when she was intrigued by someone and wanted to soak up every word being said; the way she nodded politely when listening to some know-it-all who had the floor; the way she’d look at me, eyes sparkling, with that full-on smile of hers, when she wanted me to know she loved me. She was a woman who lived in the moment—every moment.

Gabby was a talker, too. She was so animated, using her hands as punctuation marks, and she’d speak with passion, clarity, and good humor, which made her someone you wanted to listen to. Usually, I didn’t have to ask or wonder what she was thinking. She’d articulate every detail. Words mattered to her, whether she was speaking about immigration on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, or whether she was alone with me, talking about her yearning to have a child.

Gabby doesn’t have all those words at her command anymore, at least not yet. A brain injury like hers is a kind of hurricane, blowing away some words and phrases, and leaving others almost within reach, but buried deep, under debris or in a different place. “It’s awful,” Gabby will say, and I have to agree with her.

But here’s the thing: While Gabby struggles for words, coping with a constant frustration that the rest of us can’t fathom, I still know what she’s thinking much of the time. Yes, her words come haltingly or imperfectly or not at all, but I can still read her body language. I still know the nuances of that special smile of hers. She’s still contagiously animated and usually upbeat, using her one good hand for emphasis.

And she still knows what I’m thinking, too.

There’s a moment that Gabby and I are going to hold on to, a moment that speaks to our new life together and the way we remain connected. It was in late April 2011, not quite four months after Gabby was shot in the head by a would-be assassin. As an astronaut, I had just

spent five days in quarantine, awaiting the last launch of space shuttle Endeavour, which I’d be commanding. It was around noon on the day before the scheduled liftoff, and my five crew members and I had been given permission to see our spouses for a couple of hours, one

last time.

We’d be meeting with our wives on the back deck of this old, rundown two-story Florida beach house that NASA has maintained for decades. It is on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center, and there’s even a sign at the dirt road leading to it that simply says “The Beach House.” The house used to have a bed that astronauts and their significant others would use for unofficial “romantic reunions.” Now it’s just a meeting place for NASA managers, and by tradition, a gathering spot where spouses say their farewells to departing astronauts, hoping they’ll see them again. Twice in the space shuttle’s thirty-year history, crews did not make it home from their missions. And so after a meal and some socializing as a group, couples usually break away and take private walks down the desolate beach, hand in hand.

The 2,000-square-foot house is the only structure on the oceanfront for more than twenty-five miles, since NASA controls a huge chunk of Florida’s “space coast.” Look in any direction and there’s nothing but sand, seagulls, an occasional sea turtle, and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s Florida pretty much the way it was centuries ago.

On our previous visit to this spot, the day before my shuttle mission in May 2008, Gabby and I were newlyweds, sitting in the sand, chatting about the mission, her upcoming election, and our future together. Gabby reminded me of how very “blessed” we both were; she often said that. She felt we needed to be very thankful for everything that we had. And we were.

The biggest problem on our minds was finding time to see each other, given our demanding careers in separate cities. It seemed complicated then, the jigsaw puzzle that was our lives, but in retrospect, it was so simple and easy. We couldn’t have imagined that we’d return for a launch three years later and everything would be so different.

This time, Gabby entered the beach house being pushed in a wheelchair, wearing a helmet to protect the side of her head where part of her skull was missing. It had been removed during the surgery that saved her life after she was shot.

While the others at the house had come in pairs (each astronaut with a spouse), Gabby and I showed up with this whole crazy entourage—her mother, her chief of staff, a nurse, three U.S. Capitol Police officers, three Kennedy Space Center security officers, and a NASA colleague assigned to look after Gabby for the duration of my mission. The support Gabby now needed was considerable, and certainly not what my fellow crew members expected in their final moments with their wives. Instead of an intimate goodbye on a secluded beach, this became quite the circus. It was a bit embarrassing, but the men on my crew and their spouses were 100 percent supportive.

They understood. Gabby had just logged sixteen arduous and painful weeks sequestered in a Tucson hospital and then a Houston rehab center. She had worked incredibly hard, struggling to retrain her brain and fight off depression over her circumstances. For her doctors and security detail to give their blessings and allow her to travel, this was how her coming-out needed to be handled.

My crewmates and their wives greeted Gabby warmly, and she smiled at all of them, and said hello, though it was clear she was unable to make real small-talk. Some words and most sentences were still beyond her. Everyone was positive, but everyone noticed.

As I watched Gabby try to navigate the social niceties, I was very proud of her. She had learned since her injury that it could sap her energy and her spirits to be self-conscious about her deficiencies or her appearance. So she had found ways to communicate by employing upbeat hand motions and that terrific smile of hers—the same smile that had helped her connect with constituents, woo political opponents, and get my attention. She didn’t need to rattle off sentences to charm a bunch of astronauts and their wives. She just had to tap into the person she’s always been.

• *

After we settled in at the beach house, I said to Gabby: “Want to go down to the ocean?”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, swim in the ocean.”

Though Gabby grew up in Arizona, a daughter of the desert, she loves the ocean more than anyone I’ve ever known. She first saw the Pacific as a kid, traveling with her parents and sister through Mexico and Central America. They’d spend weeks at a time driving up and down the Pacific coast in a station wagon or camper. She loved to swim, to look for shells, to people-watch. Later, the Atlantic became equally alluring for her, including this stretch of beach, where we walked and swam together before my previous space flights. On those visits, Gabby had enjoyed swimming well offshore. And I admired how she engaged the other spouses so they all could shake off their nervousness over the risky missions ahead. She had just the right touch, embracing the duties that came with being the commander’s wife, while also being completely down-to-earth and making everyone feel welcome.

But this time, of course, she was dependent on the kindness of others.

Her nurse took her into the bathroom and got her into her swimsuit. Though it was a warm day, she needed sweatpants and a jacket, since her injury leaves her cold so much of the time. Gabby helped dress herself the best she could, using her left hand, but she was limited. (Because she was shot in the left side of her brain, which partially controls the right side of the body, her right hand remained mostly useless and still, an appendage on her lap.)

When Gabby got out of the bathroom, those assisting her helped her into a special chair that emergency medical crews use when they have to carry people down stairs or out of the wilderness. It took three of them to lug her in that chair through the sand, step by step, a hundred yards toward the ocean. It was low tide, which made for a longer walk. I knew exactly what Gabby was thinking on this awkward journey down from the beach house. She was thinking what I was thinking; how desperately we both longed for the life we used to have together.

When the chair reached the water’s edge, I thanked the men who carried Gabby for their efforts, and they lowered her to the ground. We unstrapped her, and after we helped her to her feet, she was able to navigate the hard, wet sand, taking a few steps, leading slowly with her left leg. That’s when our support team moved back on the beach, trying to keep a respectful distance so Gabby and I could be alone.

In the days immediately after Gabby was injured, I had considered stepping down as commander of this shuttle flight. I was unsure of whether I’d be able to focus completely on the mission, and didn’t know when Gabby would be leaving intensive care. But once she began improving and I returned to training, I found myself fantasizing about the possibility that Gabby would recover enough to join me on this beach on this day—the day before liftoff. That became a goal of ours. Now here we were.

It turned out to be a pretty amazing moment, a gift of serenity at a time when both of us were caught in the brightest of spotlights. The day before, millions of TV viewers had watched grainy, unauthorized footage of Gabby walking slowly and deliberately up a tarmac staircase and onto a plane in Houston to fly here for the launch. It had been taken by a cameraman in a distant, hovering news helicopter. Meanwhile, within twenty-four hours, 700,000 people were expected to descend on central Florida’s east coast to see me and my crew blast off in the space shuttle. And yet, here at the water’s edge, all of that attention felt very far away.

Gabby and I were focused only on each other, an intimacy heightened by all we’d been through, and by this isolated spot on the planet. Except for my crewmates and their wives walking a ways down the beach, stick figures in the distance, there was no sign of humanity to the south, the north, or off into the horizon. If we ignored our support team on the sand behind us, it felt like it was just the two of us. So neither of us turned around to look.

Inch by inch, I helped Gabby walk a dozen steps into the water, which splashed midway up our thighs. Given that hole in her skull, a fall could be deadly, so I remained alongside her, holding her arm and her waist, balancing her. I was being vigilant, but it was also nice to be so close to her.

Though the water was warm, an almost perfect 75 degrees, it was at first too cold for Gabby. Still, with the splash of each wave, she moved forward, determined to regain some small part of her former life.

What happened next was almost magical. As Gabby gazed out across the Atlantic with wide eyes and this huge, happy grin, I felt almost mesmerized just looking at her face. And that’s when it hit me: For the first time since the shooting, Gabby looked absolutely joyous.

“Awesome!” she said. “Awesome.”

The water started feeling warmer to her. The sky was clear and very blue. “You really love this, don’t you, Gabby?” I said to her.

“Yes, yes,” she answered. It almost brought a tear to my eye, seeing her so happy.

Gabby sat in her chair with her feet in the water. I sat in a chair next to her.

“You know what would be great?” I said. “In the future, we ought to buy a small house near the ocean, so you can swim.”

“Yes,” she said. “Great!”

“Maybe we’ll get a little fishing boat. Or a sailboat. Maybe on a lagoon, somewhere where the water is warm.”


It felt good to tell her this, to talk about a plan that had nothing to do with a medical treatment or physical rehab or speech therapy.

“Waves,” Gabby said. “Ocean!”

She then became quiet, preferring the soft sound of the waves to her halting voice.

I studied her face, which was luminous. In a lot of ways, she still looked like the beautiful, vivacious woman I’d fallen in love with. But there were differences. Her head was misshapen because of the missing piece of skull and the collection of excess cerebral-spinal fluid. She no longer had that full blond mane familiar to so many people from photos taken before she was shot. Her hair, which had been shaved for surgery, was very short, and had grown back in her natural dark-brown color. And she now had a full set of scars: one on her neck from her tracheotomy, one on the left side of her forehead, marking the spot where the bullet entered her brain, one over her right eye, which was also damaged in the attack, and a set of scars toward the top of her head that allowed her neurosurgeons the access they needed to save her life. Though she used to wear contact lenses, she now had to wear glasses. Because of her injuries, she’d lost about 50 percent of her vision in both eyes.

I took it all in. “You look great, Gabby,” I said. And she did. Despite everything.

Gabby smiled at me. She knows I’m a sucker for that smile of hers. Then she looked back out toward the horizon and her smile widened as the waves lapped against her feet.

I knew what she was thinking: That in this brief moment, it felt as if everything was almost back to normal. That maybe, someday, she’d be whole again.

Meet the Author

A third generation Arizonan, Gabrielle Giffords has represented Arizona's 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007. She serves on the Armed Services Committee and is the Ranking Member of the Science Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. A graduate of Scripps College, she has a Masters degree from Cornell University. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico and a fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Mark Kelly was a Captain in the United States Navy when he commanded the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour in May of 2011. A veteran of four space flights to the International Space Station he is a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and holds a masters degree from the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School. As a naval aviator he flew 39 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow was the coauthor, with Randy Pausch, of The Last Lecture, the #1 New York Times bestseller now translated into forty-eight languages. His other bestsellers include The Girls from Ames, and as coauthor, Highest Duty, with Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

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Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
BC13 More than 1 year ago
Be prepared to be inspired in your own life; a story of MORE than Hope and Courage! Words form a story of Gabby Gifford, but the journey of how far Ms. Gabby has come will be reflective of how very blessed you are in your life. Written as only Jeffery Zaslow can in making the words on a page transpire into an "I CAN" spirit.
Tusconian More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book about Gabby and Mark's upbringings, meeting and the way they have handled the challenges they've had during their marriage. She is nothing short of amazing. In a couple of places during dealings with NASA Mark comes off as the egotistical, hot shot fighter pilot not liking to be told no and quick to blame an underling but maybe that is the attitude that will stand him in good stead while helping Gabby toward a full recovery. He does point out all during the book the importance of having an advocate with you at all times in the hospital to fight for you when you can't and that's a great things.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed Gabby and have added it to my personal library. It was well written, moving fluidly from Gabrielle's personal life to Mark's personal life, from an politician's life to a astronaut's life and ultimately to their lives together. I was moved by the love story prior to and following the shooting. I admire both Gabrielle and Mark for working so hard to regain what was lost and to maintain their own identities both prior to and following the shooting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mark Kelly is Far From Perfect First of all, I applaud Gabrielle Giffords resolve and wish her continued progress in her recovery as well as her career. It would be great if, one day, she could write her memoir so we can learn about her incredible journey in her own words. As others have stated, it's misleading to list Gabrielle and Mark as authors of this book. It's really Mark's memoir, with Ms. Giffords contributing a few paragraphs. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Mark's behavior comes across as self-centered, selfish, and immature. After turning the last page, I'm not sure if I would classify him as a maverick, renegade, or a jerk. The first problem I had with Mark was how he described his wife's condition shortly after she was shot. He chose to describe her right arm as "...mostly useless." To me, another word such as, "immobile," would have been more tactful. I was surprised that some texts were not edited. For example, as Mark recalled the screening process for astronauts, he writes, "It didn't matter if you were in great health. They'd find some minor condition or something you didn't even know you had -- a heart murmur, imperfect vision, a missing kidney -- and they'd cross off your name." Huh? I also felt uneasy as Mark openly shared some of the pranks he's pulled, such as accepting a dare while training at the Merchant Marine Academy by sneaking aboard a Saudi Arabian ship and stealing their country flag. That was immature and very disrespectful. He also described a trip he took with Gabby to the Arizona/Mexico border to observe illegal immigrants crossing into the U.S. Mark boasted about how he waved to the immigrants and yelled, "Hola." Then he thought he was being cute by getting off his mule, crawling under the fence, and sneaking into Mexico as an illegal American immigrant. Then there was the time when Mark wanted to take Gabby and a few others on a tour of the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, just prior to the launch of space shuttle Endeavor. The area is off-limits, but Mark gained access by telling the guard he would only drive along the perimeter. Mark disclosed that during that time, fuel is being loaded and deemed to be hazardous. Eventually, Mark was observed speeding and driving around the launchpad. When one of his managers called and admonished him, including excessive speeding on the road leading to the launch area, informing Mark that he was clocked at 75 in a 35 mph zone, he replied, "I was trying to go a hundred! I ran out of room." Mind you he was commander of the shuttle. Mark came across as selfish when he returned from his last shuttle. After being away for weeks (not counting the quarantine period), when Gabby was having cranioplasty surgery, Mark returned and missed his wife's 42nd birthday, opting to attend a party in London hosted by Richard Branson. Then he added a side trip to Monaco on Tillman Fertitta's "boat," which I assume was the 164-foot super yacht, The Boardwalk. I'm glad Gabby gave Mark hell upon his return. It was insightful reading details about Gabby's amazing recovery, but my impression throughout the book is that Mark is more concerned about his wife making a full recovery for his own benefit, as opposed to having empathy and compassion for Gabrielle.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found it to be very inspirational. I look forward to following Ms. Gifford's progress throughout the new year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellet insight into how people with tramatic brain injuries (TBI) recover. The horrific road Ms. Giffords has traveled to regain a somewhat normal life is heartbreaking. The intimate details of her recovery gives people a glimpse into what so many suffer every year. That said, this is really the only worthy part of the book. I am not going to sugarcoat the rest and say I found it ¿great¿ or ¿interesting¿ just because she is a member of Congress who is injured. Giffords¿ husband, Mark Kelly, really comes off as an opportunist. The really shocking (and telling) part of the book, however, was when he returned to her after landing the shuttle and then hopped off to Europe, taking a mini-vacay ---- on what was his wife¿s birthday! He admits she was angry with him for that and it took the help of a former marriage counselor to help the couple make amends. And now, while Mr. Kelly appears on every cable news show to promote the book, I really wonder what his intentions are. A supposed loved one taking a bullet to the head is nothing to try and string out your 15 minutes of fame.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess he needed to hurry and capitalize on the tragedy before it became old news. It should have waited until Giffords could have played a bigger role in it, as it may have been more interesting. Can't believe it was published less than a year after the tragedy. That said, good to see Giffords doing so well, but it doesn't change the fact that she is a hypocrite. After the terrible shooting, members of Congress were calling for a "return to civility" in politics even though the crazed guy responsible had NOTHING to do with civil discourse. Nada. Zero. Zip. Then Giffords' bestest buddy Wasserman Schutlz goes around name calling every GOP member imaginable and refusing to condemn Hoffa after he said to (referring to the Tea Party) take them sons of b*tches out. And Giffords continues to associate herself with that vile, hateful woman. Hypocrite. Not to mention the fact that she stayed on in Congress long enough to get that nice, lifelong paycheck. Oh, and then she gets treatment that we would NEVER receive under ObamaCare that SHE voted for. Socialism for thee but not for me. Yup. Glad she is doing well, but she isn't the saint she has been made out to be.