HOUSTON — Scribbled on the helmet protecting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ injured head was a simple reminder: 5/17/11, the date doctors said she could take it off for the last time.

Now, a day after successful surgery to repair her skull, the helmet adorned with the Arizona state flag that she has worn since she was shot in the head in January is finally gone.

She is awake, communicating and doing bedside therapy. And her new look has earned her a nickname.

“I started calling her Gorgeous Gabby today,” said Dr. Dong Kim, the neurosurgeon who performed the operation. “She hasn’t looked in the mirror yet, but as soon as she does she’ll be very pleased.”

Even shaving her head to prevent infection hasn’t harmed her appearance, Kim said.

“I think it looks quite cute if you ask me, and hair will grow back,” he added.

Giffords’ astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, is in space and couldn’t see her. But he closely followed the intricate, 3½-hour surgery, talking to his brother and mother-in-law by Internet phone on the

International Space Station and emailing doctors.

“She’s doing really, really well, as good as possibly could be expected,” Kelly said in interview from space.