Visit the Tucson, Ariz., home of retired astronaut and Navy Captain Mark Kelly and retired U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Giffords is likely to show you a blue Tupperware container she keeps in the freezer. It contains a piece of her skull that was removed and replaced with a prostheses during a surgery after she was shot in 2011.
Her willingness to share and potentially "freak some people out," Kelly told those attending the Assisted Living Federation of America's 2014 Hero Awards Luncheon, demonstrates that "she obviously has a decent attitude, a good attitude about what happened."
He added: "You know, the power of the human spirit is an incredible thing. You guys see it in the heroes that you honored [today], and you see it in your customers, I'm sure. You know, the way people can fight so hard to come back and fight to keep going. It's really been an inspirational thing to see that in my wife, Gabby."
Kelly spoke of the opportunity that he and Giffords had to confront the man who had shot her as she met with constituents at an event, killing six and wounding others. "We told him that Gabby's life has been changed forever. Those things that she used to find so easy to do are now really, really hard, if not impossible," he said. "But despite putting a bullet through her head, he has not put a dent in her spirit, in her desire to continue to serve others. My wife inspires me each and every day. She's truly one of my heroes. Often one of the last things she'll say before she goes off to some therapy in the morning, she'll say, 'Fight, fight, fight.' She does not give up. She reminds me each and every day to deny the acceptance of failure."
Kelly said he now understands and appreciates the role of primary caregiver, having had to make several medical decisions on behalf of his wife as she began to recover. Giffords, he explained, still feels the effects of aphasia and has difficulty communicating, although her ability is improving.
In her brief remarks at the lunch, she told attendees: "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 as 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 examples. Be passionate. Be courageous. Be your best."
Thoughts about success
Sharing serious and humorous anecdotes of his time as a Navy pilot, NASA astronaut and husband before introducing his wife, Kelly relayed thoughts about success in life:
- A lack of aptitude can be overcome with "practice, persistence and the drive to never, ever give up."
- "There's never an excuse for not communicating with the people you work with. Whether you're an astronaut, combat pilot or in the assisted living business, timely and accurate communication is so important in everything we all do."
- "None of us is as dumb as all of us." Avoid "group think" in meetings, and realize that younger or lower-level staff may hesitate to express themselves in front of older or more senior staff members.
- "Patience is something you can learn."
- At NASA, "one of the things we always do–and I think this applies in the healthcare industry–we always try to pay attention to the details. What you often think is a minor detail can sometimes wind up to be a big deal."
- "The other thing we do is, we try to put great teams of people together that work well together. Teamwork is a priority, and they get more out of each individual by being on that team together."
Photo: Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly and ALFA President and CEO Rick Grimes at the ALFA Hero Awards Luncheon.