Rep. Gabrielle Giffords discharged from Houston hospital

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (P.K.Weis/ SouthwestPhotoBank.com)

Photos of a smiling Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in January, were released on her Facebook page. The photos show Giffords with close-cropped hair. According to a statement on the Facebook page, they were taken May 17, the day after her husband, Mark Kelly, went into space on the space shuttle Endeavour and the day before cranioplasty to repair her skull, a part of which had been removed to allow her brain to swell.

Photojournalist P.K. Weis of SouthwestPhotoBank.com, who has known Giffords for more than a decade, snapped the photos. Weis worked at the Tucson Citizen for 36 years, including 30 as photo editor, until the paper closed in 2009.

“It was very inspiring to see how much she had recovered in 4-1/2 months,” Weis said in a statement. “I was excited to see her and to see her smile. She was glad to see me, was in a good mood, smiling and laughing, and seemed to enjoy the experience. I certainly did, too.” Giffords, the first Jewish congresswoman elected from Arizona, was released from TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston on Wednesday. She will be an outpatient who commutes daily from her husband’s home in League City, Texas, near Houston.

Giffords will return to her hometown of Tucson this weekend for a brief visit with her family. Giffords will make no public appearance and will grant no interviews during the visit, her first to Arizona since January.

“We’ve been dreaming of this trip for some time,” said Giffords’ husband, Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. “Gabby misses Tucson very much and her doctors said that returning to her hometown could play an important part in her recovery. It is sure to be very emotional. For this reason, I hope the media understands our need for privacy.”