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Giffords, taken outdoors, smiles at sunshine on her face

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Thursday felt the sunshine on her face for the first time since she was shot, as doctors prepared her to leave behind the Arizona hospital where she dazzled them with her rapid recovery.

Her next stop will be a Houston rehab center, where she will face an even more arduous task: Getting life back to normal.

Her husband said he's hoping she'll make a full recovery, calling her "a fighter like nobody else that I know."

The doctors who will help her offered a more sober outlook.

"Not everyone always gets 100 percent restoration, but we help them to get to a new normal," said Carl Josehart, chief executive of the rehab hospital that will be the Arizona congresswoman's home for the next month or two.

Giffords, D-Ariz., is recovering from a bullet wound to the brain, but has been making progress nearly every day.

Late Thursday, trauma surgeon Dr. Peter Rhee said staff at University Medical Center in Tucson helped Giffords stand and get into a wheelchair. They then took her to a deck at the hospital, where she breathed in the fresh air and felt the sun.

"I saw the biggest smile she could gather," Rhee said, noting that Giffords loves the outdoors.

"We are very happy to have her enjoying the sunshine of Arizona," he said.

Earlier, doctors ticked off other markers of her continuing improvement: She scrolled through an iPad, picked out different colored objects and moved her lips. They are unsure whether she is mouthing words, nor do they know how much she is able to see.

Her husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, believes she has tried to speak and can recognize those around her.

"I can just look in her eyes and tell," Kelly said at a final briefing at the Tucson hospital. "She is very aware of the situation."

Giffords is expected to be moved this morning, traveling by ambulance to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base with an escort from a group of motorcycle riders from a Veterans of Foreign Wars post who know her.

Giffords will stay at Houston's TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital until she no longer needs 24-hour medical care -- the average is one to two months. Then she can continue getting up to five hours a day of physical and other rehab therapies on an outpatient basis, officials said.

Despite the steady progress, Giffords has a long road to recovery. Doctors are not sure what, if any, disability she will have.

Sometimes, areas of the brain that seem damaged can recover, said Mark Sherer, a neuropsychologist at the rehab center.

"Some of the tissue is temporarily dysfunctional, so the patient appears very impaired very early on after the injury," but may not be permanently damaged, he said.

During rehabilitation, she will have to relearn how to think and plan. It's unclear if she is able to speak. And while she is moving both arms and legs, it's uncertain how much strength she has on her right side.

Kelly predicted his wife of three years will walk back into the Arizona hospital soon, and thank everyone who took care of her.

"In two months, you'll see her walking through the front door of this building," he said.

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