HOUSTON — She heard them, smiled, and tears welled up in her eyes.

The caravan carrying Rep. Gabrielle Giffords swept past cheering crowds Friday as she left the hospital in Tucson, Ariz., where she dazzled doctors with her recovery from being shot in the head two weeks ago, and was moved to Houston for rehabilitation.

Children sat on their parents’ shoulders as the motorcade passed. Many waved. Others carried signs wishing “Gabby” well. “It was very emotional and very special,” said Dr. Randall Friese, who traveled with Giffords.

Friday afternoon, after a 930-plus-mile trip that doctors said went flawlessly, Giffords was in an intensive care unit at Texas Medical Center, where a new team of doctors planned to start her therapy immediately. After several days of evaluation, she will be sent to the center’s rehabilitation hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann.

The first thing is to determine the extent of Giffords’ injuries and the impact on her abilities to move and communicate. She hasn’t spoken yet, and it’s unknown whether she will suffer permanent disabilities.

A gunman shot Giffords and 18 other people Jan. 8 as she met with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson. Six people died. The suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, is being held in federal custody.

Tracy Culbert, a nurse who accompanied Giffords and her husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, on the flight, described her as being captivated by a ring on Culbert’s finger. The nurse took it off and Giffords put it on her own hand. “She was taking it off my hand and I asked if she wanted to see it,” Culbert said.

Asked how she felt about leaving Giffords on Friday to return to Arizona, Culbert replied, “Do you want me to cry?”

Doctors said Giffords will stay in the intensive care unit for now because she has a drain to remove fluid buildup in her brain.

Because part of her skull was removed during surgery, a special helmet was made to protect her brain. Friese said Giffords’ husband asked them to make another one — with the Arizona flag on it. “We immediately got one the next day,” he said.

Specialists ranging from physical and occupational therapists to speech therapists and psychologists will give a slew of tests to see what she can and cannot do. They’ll determine the strength of her legs and her ability to stand and walk; the strength of her arms, and whether she can brush her teeth or comb her hair; whether she can safely swallow on her own; how well she thinks and communicates – her ability not just to speak, but also to understand and comprehend.

While she is moving both arms and legs, it’s uncertain how much strength she has on her right side; the bullet passed through the left side of her brain, which controls the right side of the body.

Giffords, 40, has some weakness or paralysis on her right side, said Dr. Dong Kim, neurosurgery chief at University of Texas Health. He said she can move her leg, and may be able to support herself, but “may not be able to move it when she wants.”

The transfer from Tucson was a major milestone among many that Giffords has already passed.

Before they left the hospital, Giffords’ husband tweeted: “GG going to next phase of her recover today. Very grateful to the docs and nurses at UMC, Tucson PD, Sheriffs Dept….Back in Tucson ASAP!”

For some along the route to the airport, the sight of her motorcade seemed like a prayer answered. Bundled into an ambulance, Giffords slipped away from the hospital, leaving behind the grief and hope embodied in the cards, candles and carnations at a makeshift memorial on the front lawn.