By Deborah Quinn Hensel
HOUSTON (Reuters) -Wounded U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords is improving fast, and may be able to attend the launch of the space shuttle skippered by her astronaut husband next month, despite not having part of her skull reattached, doctors treating her said on Friday.
"The goal is for her to witness the launch in April," said Dr. Gerard Francisco, the chief medical officer at TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston where Giffords is being treated.
"Our number one concern is that it will be safe and appropriate for her to do that ... we are still planning, we have a lot of options we are considering at this point," he told a news conference.
Giffords has been recovering at the Houston facility since she was shot through the head at close range while hosting a congressional meeting outside a Tucson grocery store in January.
Aides said on Thursday they were hopeful she would be able to watch her astronaut husband Mark Kelly blast into space as leader of the Endeavour shuttle mission -- due for liftoff from Cape Canaveral April 19 on what is currently scheduled to be NASA's final shuttle flight.
Any trip to Florida would come before a part of her skull was reattached, doctors said. Neurology director Dr. Dong Kim said the team planned to replace it sometime in May -- after the shuttle launch.
"There's no rush to do it," Kim, who is director of Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann, told the news conference.
"We are planning to do it some time in May."
"HER MEMORY IS GOING TO BE GREAT"
Giffords was among 19 people shot at a "Congress on your Corner" event in Tucson on January 8, which left six dead and the congresswoman battling for her life.
Accused killer Jared Loughner, 22, has been charged with the shootings. He pleaded not guilty to an expanded 49-count indictment in federal court in Tucson on Wednesday.
Francisco said that during therapy Giffords was "gaining more movement, she's gaining more ability to do things for herself ... the amount of assistance that she needs has decreased significantly."
There were also clear signs that the congresswoman's memory of everything but the bloody shooting rampage itself was returning, Kim told reporters.
"Her memory is going to be great ... I can pick up from where I was the last time I talked to her, she remembers everybody that's coming into the room," he said.
The congresswoman had no memory of the shooting itself, which Kim said was "normal for ... this type of injury."
Giffords was "very forward looking" in her recovery, had a very good attention span, and there were clear indications her personality was emerging during the therapy sessions, Kim said.
"We would say at this point they are not flashes, that's Gaby," he said. "It's a constant wonderful thing."
(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)