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Gabrielle Giffords receives implant in skull

Doctors were due yesterday to replace a piece of Gabrielle Giffords' skull with a plastic implant, another encouraging step in the Arizona congresswoman's recovery from a gunshot to the head more than four months ago.

The surgery comes just days after Ms Giffords travelled to Florida to watch her astronaut husband launch into space.

Doctors removed a piece of Ms Giffords' skull to allow room for brain swelling shortly after a would-be assassin shot her in the head on 8 January, critically wounding her, killing six people and injuring 12 others at a political event in her home town of Tucson.

The three-term Democratic congresswoman has been wearing a helmet adorned with an Arizona state flag. Dr Richard Riggs, chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, said the surgery is relatively simple. "This gives her quality of life because she won't have to worry about the helmet and protection when moving around," said Dr Riggs, who is not involved in Ms Giffords' care.

The implant is placed under the scalp, allowing hair to grow on top so it is not visible.