In October, just weeks after his 15-year-old daughter, Malala Yousafzai, had been shot in the head by a Taliban assassin in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Ziauddin Yousafzai promised that the young education activist would “rise again.”
That vow appears to be coming true with the help of top medical care and a schoolgirl’s resilience.
A video posted by the British hospital where she is being treated will cause many of Malala’s supporters around the world to rejoice. Malala is seen stepping out of a hospital room into a corridor while holding a nurse’s hand. She walks and waves to hospital staff as she leaves for a home with her family in the city of Birmingham – nearly three months to the day after a Taliban gunman walked onto her school bus and fired a bullet into her head, just above her left eye.
Her progress might seem like a near-miracle. But in fact, early signs showed that Malala was likely to make a strong recovery and be spared the most severe brain injury associated with a gunshot wound to the head.
Early reports following the shooting indicated that Malala was responding to the commands of Pakistani first responders and medical staff and able to show some movement – all good signs, according to doctors who shared their assessments in the days after the shooting.
Also, as doctors quickly discovered, the bullet only grazed the brain instead of passing through both sides of the brain – a trajectory that likely would have been fatal. Early accounts said doctors were concerned about pieces of shattered bone injuring the brain and an infection of the bullet tract.
Pakistani doctors removed the bullet; the decision to send Malala to Britain for further medical treatment was taken in consultation with her family, with Pakistan paying for her treatment.
Perhaps the most telling signs that Malala was on the road to a good recovery came just 10 days after the shooting when Birmingham hospital staff said that she was able to stand with assistance and was exchanging notes with hospital staff.
Later, photos showed her reading a book and cards from supporters, as well as meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who visited her at the hospital in early December.
Before being discharged from the hospital, Malala had already been making home visits to see her family in Birmingham.
Her father was recently appointed as an education attaché with the Pakistan consulate in Birmingham, ensuring that Malala and her family will remain in Britain for at least three years.
“Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery,” said Dave Rosser, medical director at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, in a statement. “Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home with her parents and two brothers.”
Malala will continue receiving treatment as an outpatient. Later this month, she will undergo cranial surgery to reconstruct parts of the skull damaged by the bullet wound.
Citing patient confidentiality, hospital authorities declined to say what her plans were to continue her education, though they acknowledge she is able to read in both English and Urdu.
Her case won worldwide recognition, and the teen became a symbol for the struggle for women’s rights in Pakistan. In an indication of her reach, she made the shortlist for Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2012.