Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is doing “remarkably well” for someone who was shot in the head only six months ago, according to Daniel Hernandez Jr., the openly gay intern credited with saving her life on Jan. 8.
Hernandez appeared Tuesday night — on the 42nd anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion — during a fundraiser for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats, first at a private residence in Oak Lawn and later at gay bar the Brick.
In his prepared remarks, Hernandez didn’t talk much about Giffords, instead focusing on the importance of 2012 elections for Democrats. But in response to a question from an audience member, Hernandez noted that Giffords is still in Houston but has been released from the hospital and is undergoing outpatient rehabilitation.
“I don’t know if any of you saw the pictures, but she’s looking great,” Hernandez said. “The only real difference is she has a little bit shorter hair and she’s wearing glasses. So it’s great to see the same smile, and she’s doing remarkably well, considering the fact that she was shot six months ago, and I think the progress that she’s made has been truly inspiring not just for those of us in Tucson and in Arizona but really around the country.”
Asked by an audience member whether he’s had any contact with Giffords since the shooting, Hernandez said he has. “I actually called her for her birthday because she turned 41 a few weeks ago,” he said.
In a brief interview later with Instant Tea, the 21-year-old Hernandez said he’s made a concerted effort not to let the shooting change his life.
“I’m doing everything that I was doing before, the only difference is I’m doing a little bit of traveling,” he said, noting that he continued his internship for Giffords’ office this spring.
Hernandez said he only accepts invitations to speak from groups whose mission he supports, and he remains on pace to graduate from the University of Arizona in the spring of 2012.
“I’m actually taking more classes than most students, because I didn’t take as many as I could have in the spring because of what happened, so I’m doing a lot of online classes,” he said. “When I’m done here and done at the Brick, I’m actually going to the hotel and doing homework.”
Hernandez disputed a recent report in the Arizona Republic saying he had withdrawn emotionally since the shooting and is struggling with grief and trauma. He said the reporter’s account was “completely made up without any interaction with myself or those who are actually close to me.”
“I think it’s perfectly human for people to have issues,” he said. “I went to a grief counselor, and after conversations with her, I was doing everything I should be doing, so I am perfectly fine or as well as anyone could be, given what happened. … I’m fine. I’m doing as well as can be expected. I’m doing everything that I could be doing to make sure I’m OK.”
Hernandez said after graduation he’ll likely to work for a 2012 political campaign, although he’s unsure which one. He said he currently has no plans to run for office himself.
Asked whether he’ll go back to work for Giffords — or whether she’ll return to Congress — he said, “That would be a question you’d have to ask her.”