Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were in the room when Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes last night, less than a week after the tragic shooting that killed six and gravely wounded her. In the background of the commentary of this event, there has been this improbable success story, as Giffords’ condition continues to improve, beyond the expectations of even her doctors.

Sen. Gillibrand told the story on Air Force One last night.

And we just were so excited, so we were telling her how proud we were of her and how she was inspiring the whole nation with her courage and with her strength. And then Debbie and I started joking about all the things we were going to do after she got better. And we were holding her hand and she was responding to our hand-holding. She was rubbing our hands and gripping our hands so we could — she could really — we knew she could hear and understand what we were saying and she moved her leg, and so we knew she was responding. And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally.

And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle. And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. And we didn’t — I didn’t know what that meant. And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling and she’s struggling and it’s a good — we couldn’t figure it out, maybe 30 seconds, where she’s really trying to get her eyes open, like doing this, this, this.

And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us.

And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up. And so we’re waiting and we’re waiting and –

REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And she didn’t at first.

SENATOR GILLIBRAND: And we just thought, okay — and you could watch — when you’re watching her eyes, she’s really trying to focus. Like you could see she hadn’t opened her eyes in days. And then instead of giving the thumbs up, she literally raises her whole arm like this — like this. It was unbelievable. And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him.

And so like — she was — it was such a moment. And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.

If you put aside everything else, you just marvel at the strength of the human survival instinct.

More from CNN.

…At today’s briefing, her doctors say that Giffords can now dangle off the side of the bed and move both legs on command.