CNN Wire Staff
Tucson, Arizona (CNN) - They described it as "a miracle."
Shot in the head less than a week ago, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes briefly for the first time Wednesday, with her husband, her parents and other members of Congress in the room.
"It was extraordinary," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who was holding Giffords' hand at the time. "It was a miracle to witness."
The incident occurred shortly after President Barack Obama had visited Giffords in her hospital room. Less than an hour later, given permission to disclose the information by Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, Obama electrified a memorial-service crowd and a national television audience by revealing one of the most promising pieces of news about Gifford's condition to emerge since an assassination attempt against her on Saturday.
Giffords was squeezing and stroking Gillibrand's hand, as doctors previously said she had been able to do.
Giffords "absolutely could hear everything we were saying," Gillibrand said. "And Debbie (Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida) 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."
Gillibrand mentioned having another night out with Giffords and her husband for beer and pizza. And Wasserman Schultz recounted telling her, "Come on, you've got to get better, because we expect you up in New Hampshire this summer" at Wasserman Schultz's vacation home.
"And just as I said that, that's when she suddenly was struggling to open ... her eyes," Wasserman Schultz said. "First just a little bit. And the doctors couldn't believe it. They said, 'This is such a good time.' "
Kelly saw her struggling, Gillibrand said, and he and the others began to encourage her, saying, "Open your eyes, Gabby. Open your eyes."
And Giffords did - actually opening only one eye, as the other remains bandaged, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
"She took a moment to focus, you could see she was focusing," Gillibrand said. "And then Mark said ... 'Gabby, if you can see me, if you can see me, give us a thumbs-up ... She didn't only give a thumbs-up, she literally raised her entire hand. We were just - we couldn't stop crying ... It was just one of those moments that life brings you so rarely."
But Giffords didn't stop there, Gillibrand said. She reached out and grabbed her husband "and is touching him and starts to really choke him like she was really trying to hug him." He asked her to touch his wedding ring, "and she touches his ring, then she grabs his whole watch and wrist and then the doctor was just so excited, he said, 'You don't understand ... this is amazing what she is doing right now and beyond our greatest hopes.'"
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