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Military surgeons assist in Giffords' treatment

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
  • The Pentagon offers to assist in the treatment of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
  • An active-duty doctor and a retiree are serving as consultants
  • A bullet passed through Giffords' brain

Washington (CNN) -- Recognizing that medical experience working on soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq could be of benefit, the military hustled its most highly trained medical experts in brain injury to consult on the injury suffered by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, two military officials said Tuesday.

The two doctors, veterans of combat tours in the war zone, have developed extraordinary expertise in treating the most complicated trauma cases, the military officials said.

Giffords remained in critical condition Tuesday at a Tucson hospital, but she is breathing on her own, doctors said. The Arizona congresswoman was shot in the head during a meet-and-greet event Saturday.

After news of the shooting on Saturday, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, the congresswoman's husband, CNN has learned.

Mullen, who presided over the ceremony when Kelley was promoted to the rank of captain, offered Kelly assistance from the military, which has developed extensive expertise in treating gunshot wounds to the brain from years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the two military officials. The admiral often visits or calls wounded service members.

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After Kelly indicated he would like some direct consultation from military medical specialists, Mullen spoke with Vice Adm. Adam Robinson, the Navy's surgeon general, who began working within the military medical community to identify the best experts, according to the officials.

At the same time, the medical team in Arizona working on Giffords' case included Peter Rhee, who also had extensive battlefield experience. Rhee and his team also were reaching out for help from those with military experience.

The combined efforts led to two of the most experienced brain experts in the country traveling to Tucson.

Dr. James Eklund, a retired Army colonel who served in Iraq, is "probably the most experienced with penetrating trauma in the U.S.," according to Rhee, a Navy veteran of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also consulting is Col. Geoffrey Ling, currently on active duty, who Rhee said is prominent in neurocritical care.

"The resources of the entire military has been made available to us," Rhee said.

Ling was pulled off a brief trip to Afghanistan, where he was assessing the latest diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury, to consult in the Giffords case.