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TED2014

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly: Be passionate. Be courageous. Be your best.

March 21, 2014

On January 8, 2011, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head while meeting constituents in her home town of Tucson, Arizona. Her husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, immediately flew to be by her side. In this emotional conversation with Pat Mitchell, the pair describe their lives both before and after the accident -- and describe their views on responsible gun ownership.

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly - Former U.S. Representative and NASA astronaut; survivors
After Rep. Gabby Giffords was wounded by a would-be assassin’s bullet in January 2011, she and her husband, Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, retired US Navy captain and combat veteran, have become known around the world for their story of hope and resilience. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Pat Mitchell: That day,
00:12
January 8, 2011, began like all others.
00:14
You were both doing the work that you love.
00:18
You were meeting with constituents,
00:21
which is something that you loved doing
00:23
as a congresswoman,
00:25
and Mark, you were happily preparing
00:27
for your next space shuttle.
00:29
And suddenly, everything
that you had planned
00:32
or expected in your lives
00:36
was irrevocably changed forever.
00:38
Mark Kelly: Yeah, it's amazing,
00:42
it's amazing how
everything can change
00:43
for any of us in an instant.
00:45
People don't realize that.
00:47
I certainly didn't.
00:49
Gabby Giffords: Yes.
00:50
MK: And on that Saturday morning,
00:51
I got this horrible phone call
00:52
from Gabby's chief of staff.
00:55
She didn't have much other information.
00:57
She just said, "Gabby was shot."
00:59
A few minutes later, I called her back
01:01
and I actually thought for a second,
01:03
well, maybe I just imagined
getting this phone call.
01:05
I called her back, and
that's when she told me
01:08
that Gabby had been shot in the head.
01:09
And from that point on,
01:12
I knew that our lives were
going to be a lot different.
01:13
PM: And when you arrived at the hospital,
01:17
what was the prognosis that they gave you
01:19
about Gabby's condition
and what recovery, if any,
01:22
you could expect?
01:25
MK: Well, for a gunshot wound to the head
01:27
and a traumatic brain injury,
01:28
they typically can't tell you much.
01:30
Every injury is different. It's not predictable
01:33
like often a stroke might be predictable,
01:36
which is another TBI kind of injury.
01:37
So they didn't know how long
Gabby would be in a coma,
01:40
didn't know when that would change
01:43
and what the prognosis would be.
01:46
PM: Gabby, has your recovery
01:49
been an effort to create
a new Gabby Giffords
01:53
or reclaim the old Gabby Giffords?
01:57
GG: The new one -- better, stronger, tougher.
02:01
(Applause)
02:05
MK: That to say,
02:10
when you look at the picture behind us,
02:12
to come back from that kind of injury
02:15
and come back strong
and stronger than ever
02:17
is a really tough thing to do.
02:19
I don't know anybody
02:21
that's as tough as my
wonderful wife right here.
02:22
(Applause)
02:25
PM: And what were the first signs
02:28
that recovery was not
only going to be possible
02:31
but you were going to have some semblance
02:35
of the life that you and Gabby had planned?
02:37
MK: Well, the first thing, for me, was
02:40
Gabby was still kind of almost unconscious,
02:42
but she did something when she
was in the ICU hospital bed
02:46
that she used to do when we might
02:51
be out to dinner at a restaurant,
02:53
in that she pulled my ring off
02:55
and she flipped it from one finger to the next,
02:57
and at that point I knew
03:00
that she was still in there.
03:02
PM: And there were certain words, too.
03:04
Didn't she surprise you with
words in the beginning?
03:05
MK: Well, it was tough in the beginning.
GG: What? What? Chicken. Chicken. Chicken.
03:08
MK: Yeah, that was it.
03:14
For the first month, that was the extent
03:16
of Gabby's vocabulary.
03:19
For some reason, she has aphasia,
03:20
which is difficulty with communication.
03:23
She latched on to the word "chicken,"
03:25
which isn't the best but
certainly is not the worst.
03:28
(Laughter)
03:31
And we were actually worried
03:32
it could have been a lot worse than that.
03:34
PM: Gabby, what's been
the toughest challenge
03:38
for you during this recovery?
03:40
GG: Talking. Really hard. Really.
03:43
MK: Yeah, with aphasia, Gabby
knows what she wants to say,
03:47
she just can't get it out.
03:50
She understands everything,
03:52
but the communication is just very difficult
03:54
because when you look at the picture,
03:56
the part of your brain where
those communication centers are
03:58
are on the left side of your head,
04:03
which is where the bullet passed through.
04:05
PM: So you have to do
a very dangerous thing:
04:07
speak for your wife.
04:09
MK: I do.
04:10
It might be some of the most
dangerous things I've ever done.
04:12
PM: Gabby, are you optimistic
04:16
about your continuing recovery --
04:18
walking, talking,
04:22
being able to move your arm and leg?
04:24
GG: I'm optimistic. It will be a long, hard haul,
04:26
but I'm optimistic.
04:31
PM: That seems to be the number one
characteristic of Gabby Giffords,
04:33
wouldn't you say? (Applause)
04:37
MK: Gabby's always been really optimistic.
04:38
She works incredibly hard every day.
04:39
GG: On the treadmill,
walked on my treadmill,
04:42
Spanish lessons, French horn.
04:45
MK: It's only my wife who could be --
04:49
and if you knew her before she was injured,
04:51
you would kind of understand this --
04:53
somebody who could be injured
04:55
and have such a hard time communicating
04:57
and meets with a speech therapist,
05:00
and then about a month ago, she says,
05:01
"I want to learn Spanish again."
05:03
PM: Well, let's take a little closer look
05:07
at the wife, and this was even before
05:09
you met Gabby Giffords.
05:12
And she's on a motor scooter there,
05:14
but it's my understanding that's a very tame image
05:16
of what Gabby Giffords was like growing up.
05:19
MK: Yeah, Gabby, she
used to race motorcycles.
05:22
So that's a scooter, but she had --
05:25
well, she still has a BMW motorcycle.
05:27
PM: Does she ride it?
MK: Well, that's a challenge
05:30
with not being able to move her right arm,
05:33
but I think with something
I know about, Velcro,
05:35
we might be able to get her back on the bike,
05:40
Velcro her right hand up onto the handlebar.
05:42
PM: I have a feeling we might
see that picture next,
05:46
Gabby.
05:49
But you meet, you're already decided
05:50
that you're going to dedicate
your life to service.
05:53
You're going into the military
05:56
and eventually to become an astronaut.
05:58
So you meet.
06:00
What attracts you to Gabby?
06:03
MK: Well, when we met, oddly enough,
06:05
it was the last time we were in Vancouver,
06:09
about 10 years ago. We met in Vancouver,
06:12
at the airport, on a trip
that we were both taking
06:14
to China,
06:18
that I would actually, from my background,
06:20
I would call it a boondoggle.
06:22
Gabby would —
GG: Fact-finding mission.
06:24
MK: She would call it an
important fact-finding mission.
06:27
She was a state senator at the time,
06:31
and we met here, at the airport,
06:33
before a trip to China.
06:36
PM: Would you describe it
as a whirlwind romance?
06:37
GG: No, no, no.
06:40
(Laughter)
06:42
A good friend.
06:45
MK: Yeah, we were friends for a long time.
06:47
GG: Yes. (Laughter)
06:49
MK: And then she invited me
on, about a year or so later,
06:54
she invited me on a date.
07:00
Where'd we go, Gabby?
07:03
GG: Death row.
07:04
MK: Yes. Our first date was to death row
07:05
at the Florence state prison in Arizona,
07:10
which was just outside
Gabby's state senate district.
07:13
They were working on some legislation
07:18
that had to do with crime and punishment
07:20
and capital punishment
in the state of Arizona.
07:23
So she couldn't get anybody
else to go with her,
07:25
and I'm like, "Of course I
want to go to death row."
07:28
So that was our first date.
07:32
We've been together ever since.
GG: Yes.
07:34
PM: Well, that might have contributed to the reason
07:37
that Gabby decided to marry you.
07:39
You were willing to go to death row, after all.
07:41
MK: I guess.
07:44
PM: Gabby, what did make you want to marry Mark?
07:45
GG: Um, good friends. Best friends. Best friends.
07:49
MK: I thought we always
07:55
had a very special relationship.
07:59
We've gone through some tough times
08:01
and it's only made it stronger.
GG: Stronger.
08:03
PM: After you got married, however,
08:07
you continued very independent lives.
08:09
Actually, you didn't even live together.
08:12
MK: We had one of those commuter marriages.
08:15
In our case, it was Washington, D.C., Houston,
08:16
Tucson.
08:19
Sometimes we'd go clockwise,
08:21
sometimes counterclockwise,
08:22
to all those different places,
08:24
and we didn't really live together
08:25
until that Saturday morning.
08:29
Within an hour of Gabby being shot,
08:32
I was on an airplane to Tucson,
08:34
and that was the moment
08:35
where that had changed things.
08:37
PM: And also, Gabby, you had run for Congress
08:40
after being a state senator
08:43
and served in Congress for six years.
08:45
What did you like best
08:48
about being in Congress?
08:49
GG: Fast pace. Fast pace.
08:52
PM: Well it was the way you did it.
GG: Yes, yes. Fast pace.
08:56
PM: I'm not sure people would
describe it entirely that way.
08:58
(Laughter)
09:01
MK: Yeah, you know, legislation is often
09:03
at a colossally slow pace,
09:05
but my wife, and I have to admit,
09:07
a lot of other members of Congress that I know,
09:09
work incredibly hard.
09:11
I mean, Gabby would run
around like a crazy person,
09:13
never take a day off,
09:15
maybe a half a day off a month,
09:17
and whenever she was awake she was working,
09:19
and she really, really thrived on that,
09:21
and still does today.
GG: Yes. Yes.
09:24
PM: Installing solar panels on the top of her house,
09:26
I have to say.
09:28
So after the tragic incident, Mark,
09:30
you decided to resign
09:33
your position as an astronaut,
09:35
even though you were supposed to take
09:37
the next space mission.
09:38
Everybody, including Gabby,
09:40
talked you into going back,
09:42
and you did end up taking.
09:43
MK: Kind of. The day after Gabby was injured,
09:45
I called my boss, the chief astronaut,
09:48
Dr. Peggy Whitson, and I said,
09:50
"Peggy, I know I'm launching in space
09:52
in three months from now.
09:54
Gabby's in a coma. I'm in Tucson.
09:56
You've got to find a replacement for me."
09:59
So I didn't actually resign from being an astronaut,
10:01
but I gave up my job and they found a replacement.
10:02
Months later, maybe about two months later,
10:05
I started about getting my job back,
10:08
which is something,
10:10
when you become this primary caregiver person,
10:12
which some people in the audience here
10:14
have certainly been in that position,
10:17
it's a challenging role but at some point
10:19
you've got to figure out when
you're going to get your life back,
10:21
and at the time, I couldn't ask Gabby
10:24
if she wanted me to go fly in the space shuttle again.
10:26
But I knew she was—
GG: Yes. Yes. Yes.
10:29
MK: She was the biggest
supporter of my career,
10:32
and I knew it was the right thing to do.
10:34
PM: And yet I'm trying to imagine, Mark,
10:36
what that was like, going off onto a mission,
10:38
one presumes safely,
but it's never a guarantee,
10:41
and knowing that Gabby is —
10:45
MK: Well not only was
she still in the hospital,
10:48
on the third day of that flight,
10:51
literally while I was
10:54
rendezvousing with the space station,
10:55
and you've got two vehicles
moving at 17,500 miles an hour,
10:57
I'm actually flying it, looking out the window,
11:00
a bunch of computers,
11:03
Gabby was in brain surgery,
11:04
literally at that time having the final surgery
11:07
to replace the piece of skull
11:10
that they took out on the day she was injured
11:13
with a prosthetic, yeah, which
is the whole side of her head.
11:15
Now if any of you guys would ever come
11:18
to our house in Tucson for the first time,
11:20
Gabby would usually go up to the freezer
11:24
and pull out the piece of Tupperware
11:25
that has the real skull. (Laughter)
11:27
GG: The real skull.
MK: Which freaks people out, sometimes.
11:30
PM: Is that for appetizer or dessert, Mark?
11:34
MK: Well, it just gets the conversation going.
11:37
PM: But there was a lot
of conversation about
11:41
something you did, Gabby, after Mark's flight.
11:43
You had to make another
step of courage too,
11:46
because here was
Congress deadlocked again,
11:50
and you got out of the rehabilitation center,
11:54
got yourself to Washington
12:00
so that you could walk
on the floor of the House --
12:02
I can barely talk about this
without getting emotional —
12:05
and cast a vote which could have been
12:08
the deciding vote.
12:11
GG: The debt ceiling. The debt ceiling.
12:12
MK: Yeah, we had that vote,
12:16
I guess about five months after Gabby was injured,
12:18
and she made this bold decision to go back.
12:20
A very controversial vote,
12:23
but she wanted to be there
12:25
to have her voice heard one more time.
12:26
PM: And after that, resigned
12:29
and began what has been a very slow
12:31
and challenging recovery.
12:35
What's life like, day to day?
12:37
MK: Well, that's Gabby's service dog Nelson.
12:40
GG: Nelson.
12:43
MK: New member of our family.
GG: Yes, yes.
12:44
MK: And we got him from a—
12:47
GG: Prison. Murder.
MK: We have a lot of connections
12:50
with prisons, apparently. (Laughter)
12:51
Nelson came from a prison,
12:54
raised by a murderer in Massachusetts.
12:55
But she did a great job with this dog.
13:00
He's a fabulous service dog.
13:04
PM: So Gabby, what have you learned
13:07
from your experiences the past few years?
13:10
MK: Yeah, what have you learned?
GG: Deeper. Deeper.
13:14
PM: Your relationship is deeper.
13:20
It has to be. You're together all the time now.
13:22
MK: I imagine being grateful, too, right?
13:25
GG: Grateful.
13:27
PM: This is a picture of
family and friends gathering,
13:29
but I love these pictures because they show
13:31
the Gabby and Mark relationship now.
13:35
And you describe it, Gabby, over and over,
13:39
as deeper on so many levels. Yes?
13:41
MK: I think when something tragic happens
13:47
in a family, it can pull people together.
13:49
Here's us watching the space shuttle
13:51
fly over Tucson,
13:53
the Space Shuttle Endeavour,
13:55
the one that I was the
commander on its last flight,
13:57
on its final flight on top of an airplane
13:59
on a 747 on its way to L.A.,
14:03
NASA was kind enough
to have it fly over Tucson.
14:06
PM: And of course, the two of you
14:10
go through these challenges
14:14
of a slow and difficult recovery,
14:15
and yet, Gabby, how do you maintain
14:18
your optimism and positive outlook?
14:21
GG: I want to make the world a better place.
14:24
(Applause)
14:27
PM: And you're doing that
14:35
even though your recovery has to remain
14:37
front and center for both of you.
14:39
You are people who have done service
14:41
to your country and you
are continuing to do that
14:43
with a new initiative, a new purpose.
14:47
And Gabby, what's on the agenda now?
14:50
GG: Americans for Responsible Solutions.
14:53
MK: That's our political action committee,
14:57
where we are trying to
get members of Congress
15:01
to take a more serious look at
gun violence in this country,
15:04
and to try to
15:07
pass some reasonable legislation.
15:08
GG: Yes. Yes. (Applause)
15:11
MK: You know, this affected
us very personally,
15:19
but it wasn't what happened
to Gabby that got us involved.
15:21
It was really the 20 murdered first graders
15:24
and kindergartners in Newtown, Connecticut,
15:28
and the response that we saw afterwards
15:30
where -- well, look what's happened so far.
15:33
So far the national response has been
15:36
pretty much to do nothing.
15:39
We're trying to change that.
15:40
PM: There have been 11 mass shootings
15:42
since Newtown,
15:43
a school a week in the first
two months of last year.
15:44
What are you doing that's different
15:48
than other efforts to balance
15:49
rights for gun ownership and responsibilities?
15:51
MK: We're gun owners,
we support gun rights.
15:54
At the same time, we've
got to do everything we can
15:57
to keep guns out of the hands of criminals
15:59
and the dangerously mentally ill.
16:01
It's not too difficult to do that.
16:03
This issue, like many others,
16:06
has become very polarizing and political,
16:07
and we're trying to bring some balance
16:11
to the debate in Washington.
16:14
PM: Thank you both for that effort.
16:15
And not surprisingly for
this woman of courage
16:17
and of a sense of adventure,
16:21
you just keep challenging yourself,
16:22
and the sky seems to be the limit.
16:25
I have to share this video
16:26
of your most recent adventure.
16:28
Take a look at Gabby.
16:31
MK: This is a couple months ago.
16:34
(Video) MK: You okay? You did great.
GG: Yes, it's gorgeous. Thank you.
16:41
Good stuff. Gorgeous. Oh, thank you.
16:44
Mountains. Gorgeous mountains.
16:50
(Applause)
16:59
MK: Let me just say
17:00
one of the guys that Gabby jumped with
17:03
that day was a Navy SEAL
17:05
who she met in Afghanistan
17:07
who was injured in combat,
17:10
had a really rough time.
17:11
Gabby visited him
17:13
when he was at Bethesda
17:14
and went through a really tough period.
17:16
He started doing better.
17:18
Months later, Gabby was shot in the head,
17:20
and then he supported her
17:22
while she was in the hospital in Houston.
17:23
So they have a very, very nice connection.
17:25
GG: Yes.
17:27
PM: What a wonderful moment.
17:29
Because this is the TED stage,
17:30
Gabby, I know you worked very hard
17:32
to think of the ideas that you wanted to leave
17:35
with this audience.
17:39
GG: Thank you.
17:40
Hello, everyone.
17:46
Thank you for inviting us here today.
17:48
It's been a long, hard haul,
17:53
but I'm getting better.
17:55
I'm working hard,
17:58
lots of therapy -- speech therapy,
18:00
physical therapy, and yoga too.
18:03
But my spirit is strong as ever.
18:06
I'm still fighting to make
the world a better place,
18:09
and you can too.
18:13
Get involved with your community.
18:16
Be a leader. Set an example.
18:20
Be passionate. Be courageous.
18:23
Be your best. Thank you very much.
18:26
(Applause)
18:30
MK: Thank you.
GG: Thank you.
18:33
(Applause)
18:37
MK: Thank you everybody.
GG: Bye bye. (Applause)
18:39

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Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly - Former U.S. Representative and NASA astronaut; survivors
After Rep. Gabby Giffords was wounded by a would-be assassin’s bullet in January 2011, she and her husband, Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, retired US Navy captain and combat veteran, have become known around the world for their story of hope and resilience.

Why you should listen

For nearly 15 years, Gabby Giffords has dedicated herself to public service. As the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, she represented her community in the Arizona Legislature from 2000-2005, and then in US Congress from 2006-2012. In Congress, Gabby represented a diverse area that covers 9,000 square miles including a 114-mile border with Mexico. She quickly became a leading champion of border security, energy independence, and the needs of military families and veterans. She was consistently ranked as one of the most centrist legislators in Congress. 

In 2007, Giffords married Mark Kelly, a Naval aviator who flew 39 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm and NASA astronaut. Mark flew his first of four missions in 2001 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, the same space shuttle that he commanded on its final flight in May 2011. He has also commanded Space Shuttle Discovery and is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station on four different occasions.

On January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, an assassination attempt at an event with constituents left Giffords severely wounded, and six others dead. Since that day, Gabby and Mark have become known for their story of hope and resilience in the wake of tragedy.

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