Giffords’ surgeon is son of pioneering Del. doctor

Dr. Gerald Lemole, the man who developed the first open heart surgery program in the state of Delaware, says from what he’s heard, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is making good progress.

The reason that’s noteworthy is because Lemole has a pretty reliable source. His son, Michael, is Giffords’ neurosurgeon.

Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery, operated on Giffords after the lawmaker was shot in the head last Saturday during a public appearance in Tucson.

The latest news is that Giffords has opened an eye for the first time.

“If it (opening the eye) is on command that’s even better,” said Dr. Gerald Lemole. “Because that means you’re hearing the words, you’re integrating them, incorporating them into your thinking and then you’re creating an impulse that says ‘move those muscles on your eyelid,’ so your eye opens.

“It’s progressive; it’s a progress from not opening your eyes.”

Lemole is a professor of surgery at Temple University. Before that, he spent 23 years in Delaware, including time as chief of surgery at Christiana Care Health System. He says he speaks to his son almost nightly about the case. His son tells him Giffords’ injury was very extensive but that she was fortunate it wasn’t worse.

“He did mention that we can’t really tell the extent of the damage until we get further out,” he said.

One thing that is clear is that Giffords will need extensive physical and neurological rehabilitation. But Dr. Gerald Lemole says there is reason to be encouraged.

“I think a lot is possible, especially being at 40 years old, she’s young and vigorous,” he said. “So she might do quite well.”

Since the shooting last Saturday, the younger surgeon has been on a national stage, giving countless updates on the lawmaker’s condition to the news media. It’s a role, his father says, he is not completely comfortable with.

“It’s not that he can’t go out and speak,” the father said. “But he just doesn’t feel that’s an important part of his job. His job is to take care of her and get her better.”

Dr. Gerald Lemole says his son has done a great job of doing just that; caring for Giffords.

“I’m very happy that she was able to get to a progam like the University of Arizona and people like Michael,” he said. “Because I know Michael is an excellent surgeon, and a very bright, young man, and conscientious and a good person.

“So my first thoughts are that I’m very happy that one of our Congress people can have the best of care and I am very happy for Michael and very proud of Michael, of course.”

The elder Lemole said the moments following the shooting were confusing and that he had no idea his son was involved. Initially, he heard that Giffords had died. But then his daughter-in-law called him to tell him that not only was Giffords alive, but that Michael was operating on her.

“She said Michael was taking a golf lesson and he got this phone call ‘get down here right away there’s this emergency,’ he said. And he dropped his clubs and drove down to the hospital.”

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