The familiarity of a visit by close friends from Congress may have prompted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to open her eyes for the first time since she was shot, a doctor treating her said on Thursday, adding that it was an important sign in her recovery.

Giffords was shot through the head by a gunman who sprayed a meeting with pistol fire in Tucson on Saturday, killing six people including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl whose funeral was held later Thursday.

Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were talking to their wounded colleague in her hospital room shortly after President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, visited during a trip to Tucson for a memorial address late on Wednesday.

“She was surrounded by her friends from the Congress and Senate, and I think it was a combination perhaps of the unexpected and the familiar that really prompted her to open her eyes and look around,” Dr. Michael Lemole told a news conference at the University Medical Center in Tucson, adding that it was an important sign in her continuing recovery.

“That’s important. ... It implies that not just those parts of the brain that process commands are there — but the arousal center — those are starting to work spontaneously, she is becoming aware of her surroundings,” said Lemole, who is chief of neurosurgery.

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