Gabby Giffords' First 2 Words: 'What' and 'Chicken'

Former congresswoman writes about living with aphasia
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2022 1:10 PM CDT
Gabby Giffords to Bruce Willis: 'You Are Not Alone'
Gabby Giffords and her husband, Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, arrive for the world premiere of "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down" at the Paramount Theatre, during the South by Southwest Film Festival, on March 12, 2022, in Austin, Texas.   (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)

(Newser) – The revelation that Bruce Willis has the brain disorder known as aphasia has brought a lot of attention to the ailment. Now, another well-known figure with aphasia is shedding light on what it's like to live with it. "Imagine struggling to talk to your loved ones on the phone, the words you want to say on the tip of your tongue, but not being able to get them out," writes former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a bullet wound to the brain 11 years ago, in the Washington Post. "Or imagine struggling to talk to strangers: Though my cognition—my understanding and intelligence—is unaffected by my aphasia, sometimes that is not clear to new acquaintances because of my speech. That misunderstanding can itself be painful and frustrating."

Giffords recounts her slow recovery, including how the only two words she could say at first were "what" and, inexplicably, "chicken." The latter word would pop out frequently, as when she kept accidentally saying "happy birthday, chicken" to her husband, Sen. Mark Kelly. (That lighthearted trouble is recounted in a new documentary, Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down, per Variety.) As with many people suffering from aphasia, Giffords often drops small words (prepositions, pronouns, etc.) that can make her sentences harder to understand. In her case, singing can be easier than talking. "My message for Bruce Willis and for everyone out there struggling with aphasia—or any other communication disorder—is that you are not alone," she writes. Read the full op-ed. (Read more Gabby Giffords stories.)

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