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