Tuscon, Arizona (CNN) - When President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot on Saturday, an overflow crowd of nearly 30,000 people at a memorial event erupted into cheers that the congresswoman may have heard in her hospital room.
Obama said he learned of the eye-opening from Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.
"She knows we're here, and she knows we love her,and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey," the president said at a memorial in Tucson to honor the victims of the shooting.
Giffords is still listed in critical condition at the University of Arizona's University Medical Center. Suspect Jared Loughner allegedly fired at her first, striking her in the head.
As soon as Obama finished his remarks, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, let it be known that she, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, were in the room at the time, along with Kelly and Giffords' parents.
"It was like witnessing a miracle," Gillibrand told CNN.
"Debbie and I were telling her how much she was inspiring the nation with her courage, her strength, and we were talking about the things we wanted to do as soon as she was better," the senator said. "I said, 'We'll have another night out for beer and pizza with your husband.' And Debbie started talking to her about their house in New Hampshire, just talking about all the things we wanted to do, and all of a sudden she started to struggle to open her eyes. "
"So Mark saw that and said, "Open your eyes, Gabby, open your eyes.' She kept struggling and struggling and Mark just kept encouraging her. And within a
moment she literally opened her eyes."
"The doctors couldn't believe it," Wasserman Schultz said.
"Mark started encouraging her, saying 'Gabby, give me a thumbs up if you can see, if you can see me, touch my ring, touch my wedding ring.' She started doing that," she said. "We just kept talking to her and talking to her about the fun we've had with her, and so then she opened her eyes more. She went from opening her eyes really just in slits to opening them nearly fully. It wasn't very long, and then they closed again. But it was just absolutely - it was the most incredible, aside from my kids, the most incredible experience."
Giffords kept her eyes open "for a moment," Gillibrand said - "maybe 30 seconds, maybe 60 seconds."
"You could see she was focusing and Mark said, 'Gabby if you can see me, give me the thumbs up,' and not only did she give the thumbs up, she literally raised her entire hand," Gillibrand later told CNN.
Doctors sent them out of the room shortly after that, Gillibrand said, because Giffords needed to rest.
God bless her!!! I teared-up when I heard the President mention that she'd opened her eyes!
The power of prayer;the collective power of good-will being channeled to Ms. Giffords cannot and should not be underestimated.
Let's rise America, and come back from this tragedy better than we were before.
Hallelujah!!!! God is GOOD!
What wonderful news..I hope she continues to be strong and pulls through this. My thoughts and prayers to her an her family!
Thank God tthat she is recovering. I plan to honor the victims by remembering we are Americans first, not republicans or democrats, and by being more open to the views of others.
I can tell you, as the father of a little girl, who at 1 years old suffered a brain injury caused by a virus, this is a VERY big deal. When my daughter opened her eyes and started to take in her surroundings after 3 days there was a great sense of relief.
The road ahead is very long and very trying. But with each milestone reached, more stress is let go and more of a sense of normal returns. You don't know the stress you're under until it's released. I know the stress Mr Kelly is under, I've been there, but I also know how he'll feel at each milestone when it's reached. It took 11 months for my daughter to walk again, almost 2 years before she started talking again, and it still recovering from the inury, but she WILL fully recover.
I can only hope that Representative Giffords makes a full recovery. When that happens, it will be at her pace. It's a long and frustrating process that takes a lot of patience. These are all very positive signs, lets hope they continue.
All the best Rep. Giffords and may your recovery continue to astound us!
When we all unite in prayer as one miracles do happen and I pray everyday for Giffords recovery. Thank you God.
God bless you Gabby, we are praying for your speedy recovery!
Maybe it's time we all opened our eyes too.
God bless and good luck Mrs. Giffords many are praying for you and the other victims
An encouraging sign. More power to you Gabrielle !
I pray for Ms. Giffords' full recovery. She is exactly the kind of leader we need in this country: a moderate, who does not vilify those with opposing viewpoints.