Mary Jo Buttafuoco, who survived a point-blank gunshot to the head, speaks tonight with CNN's Don Lemon about Giffords' survival and remarkable recovery. Watch the live interview tonight - Sunday, January 23 - at 6 p.m. ET.
By CNN Senior Producer Glenn Emery
Everyone is anxiously following the recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but perhaps no one is as keenly tuned in as Mary Jo Buttafuoco. She suffered her own traumatic head wound in 1992 when her then-husband’s teenager lover, Amy Fisher, shot her point-blank in the face on the steps of the Buttafuocos’ Long Island home. Today, more than 18 years later, she still bears the scars of that attack. She’s paralyzed on the right side of her face and is deaf in her right ear. She lives with constant pain that she describes as an impacted wisdom tooth. She gets dizzy if she turns around. She won’t answer the door without knowing who it is.
Buttafuoco was not shot in the brain as Giffords was. But her first-hand experience at surviving and recovering from a bullet to the head offers a rare glimpse into what Giffords may be going through now and may likely face in the future.
Based on her own experience, Buttafuoco says Giffords might not yet fully comprehend where she is or exactly what has happened. Buttafuoco says doctors told her she was responsive to them after her own injury, and they told her repeatedly that she had been shot. But she says she has no memory of it. Reality did not sink in until much later. According to Buttafuoco, Giffords could face a similar awakening in the future in which she learns the enormity of the tragedy. Buttafuoco worries that could pose a potential setback in Giffords’ recovery because the truth could be an overwhelming burden.
Buttafuoco also points out that Giffords is likely under heavy sedation. Addiction is always a risk when powerful pain medications are used. Medication creates a comfortable cocoon from the physical and emotional pain, Buttafuoco says. When the drugs are removed, the pain can be overwhelming. Buttafuoco became addicted to pain killers and eventually had to go to the Betty Ford Clinic to recover.
Even after the body has healed, Buttafuoco says there is a whole new adjustment to life. The wounded body will not be the same and may not function as before. Giffords may have to learn how to do many ordinary things all over again.
“It will be a long and arduous process,” Buttafuoco says of Giffords’ recovery.
Buttafuoco told her story in the 2009 book, “Getting it Through My Thick Skull.”