Shot by Taliban, Pakistani schoolgirl can stand, communicate

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by Laura Smith-Spark
For New Pittsburgh Courier

LONDON (CNN)—There were tears of joy when Malala Yousufzai’s family reunited with her for the first time since she was flown to a British hospital for treatment, her father said Friday.

“In the condition when I saw my daughter…we were hopeful but we did not expect…that she can talk, that she can see,” Ziauddin Yousufzai said.

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ON THE MEND—Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai stood for the first time after her shooting on Oct. 19. Malala couldn’t talk because she had a tracheotomy tube inserted to protect her airway, which was swollen after her gunshot injury, was writing coherent sentences, Dr. Dave Rosser, Medical Director at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, told the press.The infection she had is now gone. (CNN Photo/Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, U.K.)

“I love her and this morning, last night when we met her, there were tears in our eyes and they were out of happiness, out of happiness,” he said.

He described his daughter’s survival after being shot in the head as a “miracle for us” and became emotional as he told how the family at one point had started to think about making funeral arrangements for her.

“She is not just my daughter, she is the daughter of everyone, she is the sister of everyone,” he said, speaking a day after he, his wife and two sons arrived in Birmingham, England, to see her.

Doctors do not believe Malala has suffered serious brain damage, but say she still faces a long road to full recovery.

Yousufzai spoke of how Malala, 15, had become an education rights activist at an early age, and in so doing had become an international symbol of courage.

He said he is “thankful to the media of Pakistan…because it is very difficult to stand by a girl who stands up against terrorism…They were warned by the terrorists but still they supported my daughter.”

Malala: Symbol of global fight for education?

He also expressed gratitude to the Pakistani and British governments, as well as the medical teams in both countries, for the care given to his daughter.

“She got the right treatment, at the right place, at the right time,” he said.

Yousufzai, who was accompanied at the news conference by Malala’s 12-year-old brother, gave a detailed account of the traumatic days since Malala was shot by a Taliban gunman in a school van carrying her home after taking an exam.

She was first rushed to a local hospital, then transferred to better facilities in Peshawar and on to Islamabad, undergoing surgery as doctors sought to save her life.

As her brain swelled as a result of the gunshot through her head, her family began to fear that she might not pull through, he said. By the time she left on a flight to Britain, she was in a medically induced coma, unable to see or speak with her loved ones.

“She was in a very bad condition,” her father said. He thanked God for the improvement the family could now see, 11 days after she arrived in Britain.

Speaking alongside him, Dr. Dave Rosser, medical director of University Hospitals Birmingham, gave the most positive prognosis yet for Malala’s recovery.

“We don’t think she has significant brain damage,” he said, adding that she is very tired but “managed a big smile” when she saw her family.

The teenager is now walking with little help and “appears to have very good memories of both the last few days of her care and events prior to this incident,” he said.

She is having tests on her hearing and vision Friday, mostly as a precaution because the bullet entered above her left eyebrow, he explained.

Rosser also said Malala is now clear of the infection that was troubling doctors last week. At that point Malala could not speak because a tube had been inserted into her trachea to protect her airway, and was writing notes to communicate with medical staff.

Despite her great progress, however, the teen still faces weeks or months of recovery and rehabilitation, both physical and psychological, Rosser said.

Doctors expect to operate again once she’s strong enough, to repair her skull and possibly her jaw joint.

Her progress has been followed closely by supporters in Pakistan and around the world who were outraged by the Taliban’s Oct. 9 attack.

Malala has been thinking about school even while she lies in her hospital bed, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters after meeting with her family Thursday, and she asked her father to take her school books with him.

“The mission she has taken forward and the education awareness that has spread across Pakistan is all Malala’s doing,” he said, according to PTV. “So I think that our entire nation should be proud of her love for the soil of her country.”

After Malala recovers and returns to Pakistan, he said, “we will provide her with complete security, despite anyone’s refusal, to ensure that something like this never happens again. The attack on Malala was a mindset of people who don’t want to see this country progress.”

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the shooting in the conservative Swat Valley, but don’t appear to have anticipated the level of condemnation it would provoke.

Thousands of people in Pakistan and elsewhere have attended rallies and vigils honoring her courage and praying for her recovery.

Malala initially gained international attention in 2009, writing a blog about her life as the Taliban gained a foothold in her home region of Swat, a Taliban redoubt in northwest Pakistan, near Afghanistan.

(CNN’s Jonathan Wald and Shaan Khan contributed to this report.)

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