LONDON (Reuters) - A Pakistani girl shot in the head by Taliban gunmen is “not out of the woods” but is doing well and has been able to stand for the first time, doctors at the British hospital treating her said on Friday.
Malala Yousufzai, who was shot for vocally opposing the Taliban, was flown from Pakistan to Birmingham to receive treatment after the attack earlier this month, which drew widespread international condemnation.
She has become a symbol of resistance to the Islamist group’s effort to deny women education and other rights.
Dave Rosser, medical director of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, said she was now able to write and appeared to have memory recall despite her brain injuries.
“It’s clear that she’s not out of the woods yet,” Rosser told reporters, saying she had sustained a “very, very grave injury”. But he said she was “doing very well”.
“In fact she was standing with some help for the first time this morning. She’s communicating very freely, writing,” he said.
Rosser said, however, that the teenager was not able to speak because she had undergone a tracheotomy so she could breathe through a tube in her neck, an operation that was performed because her airways had been swollen by the bullet.
Yousufzai was shot as she left school in Swat, northwest of Islamabad. The Taliban said they attacked her because she spoke out against the group and praised U.S. President Barack Obama.
The alleged organizer of the shooting was captured during a 2009 military offensive against the Taliban, but released after three months, two senior officials told Reuters.
In a detailed statement about Yousufzai’s injuries, Rosser said she had suffered fractures to the base of her skull and to the bone behind her left ear. Her left jawbone is also injured at its joint.
“Malala was shot at point blank range,” with the bullet hitting her left brow, Rosser said. But instead of penetrating skull it travelled underneath the skin, the whole length of the side of her head and into her neck.
Shock waves from the shot shattered the thinnest bone of her skull and fragments were driven into her brain.
Rosser said there was certainly physical damage to the brain but it was too early to tell whether that would affect any brain functions.
“She seems to be able to understand, she has some memory,” he said. “She’s able to stand, she’s got motor control ... (but) whether there are any subtle intellectual or memory deficits down the line, it’s too early to say.”
The hospital unit is expert in dealing with complex trauma cases and has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan. It has the world’s largest single-floor critical care unit for patients with gunshot wounds, burns, spinal damage and major head injuries.
Rosser said Yousufzai’s treatment is likely to include reconstructive surgery to replace the damaged skull bone.
That surgery is unlikely to be able to be carried until for several weeks or even months, he said, since she is also fighting an infection that needs to be cured first.
“She’s going to need a couple of weeks to rehabilitate, to make sure the infection is cleared up,” he said.
Reporting by Alessandra Rizzo and Kate Kelland; Editing by Robin Pomeroy