Malala’s journey from near death to recovery

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By Ben Brumfield, CNN

(CNN) – It began with a ride home from school on Tuesday, October 9.

Gunmen halted the van ferrying Malala Yousufzai through her native Swat Valley, one of the most conservative regions in Pakistan. They demanded that other girls on the vehicle identify her. Malala had faced frequent death threats in the past.

Some of the girls pointed her out. At least one gunman opened fire, wounding three girls. Two sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but bullets struck Malala in the head and neck.

The bus driver hit the gas. The assailants got away.

Malala was left in critical condition. An uncle described her as having excruciating pain and being unable to stop moving her arms and legs.

Doctors fought to save her life, then her condition took a dip. They operated to remove a bullet from her neck. After surgery, she was unresponsive for three days.

Now, a month later, it is nothing short of a miracle that the teen blogger, who fights for the right of girls to get an education, is still alive and even more astounding that she suffered no major brain or nerve damage.

In hardly more than four weeks, she has gone from an intensive care unit in Pakistan, showing no signs of consciousness to walking, writing, reading — and smiling — again in a hospital in the UK.

And outside her hospital room, a world sympathetic with her ordeal has transformed her into a global symbol for the fight to allow girls everywhere access to an education.

The United Nations has declared Saturday, November 10, Malala Day as a day of action to focus on “Malala and the 32 million girls like Malala not at school.”

The Pakistani Taliban shot Malala

Malala has encouraged girls and their families to resist the Pakistani Taliban, who pushed girls from classrooms, since she was 11.

In January 2009, the militants issued an edict ordering that no school should educate girls. Malala wrote in her online diary about intimidation tactics the Taliban used in her native Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan to coerce girls into not going school.

They included house raids to search for books, and Malala had to hide hers under her bed.

The extremists took issue with her writings and threatened to kill her.

“I was scared of being beheaded by the Taliban because of my passion for education,” she told CNN last year.

Right after her shooting her family kept a low profile, for fear they could be next. The militants vowed that if Malala survived, they’d go after her again.

“We will certainly kill her,” a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said.

Read about the Pakistani Taliban and the faction that went after Malala

Global outpouring of support

The bloodletting sparked outrage inside Pakistan against the radical Islamist group that continues to wield influence in parts of Pakistan. Around the world, the young blogger has become a poster child for a widespread need to permit girls to get an education.

Initially supporters in Pakistan gathered for small vigils to pray for Malala’s recovery. Government officials in Peshawar, the main city in the northwestern region where Malala is from, observed a minute of silence in her honor.

Public support snowballed, and thousands of people in Pakistan and elsewhere attended rallies honoring her courage.

Protesters in Karachi carried posters and banners reading: “Malala, our prayers are with you” and “Shame on you, Taliban.”

The airwaves filled with leaders and commentators who publicly got behind her, and journalists closely followed her story, drawing death threats from the Taliban for their coverage.

Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, took a stand from Malala’s hospital, declaring: “We refuse to bow before terror.”

Pakistan’s first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, decried the attempted assassination as “a wake-up call (to) a clear-and-present danger.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik dubbed Malala “the pride of Pakistan,” and announced that her local school will be renamed for her, changing from “Khushal Public School” to “Malala Public High School.”

Authorities in Swat renamed a college after her.

The United Nations launched a campaign for girls’ education named “I am Malala.” Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attack and praised Malala’s cause.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended the blogger’s bravery; Angelina Jolie donated $50,000 to a charity in Malala’s name. And singer Madonna shouted her name from a stage, dedicating a song to her.

Malik proclaimed that two girls injured in the attack on Malala – Kainat Riaz Ahmed and Shazia Ramzan – will be honored with the third-highest military award, the Star of Courage. It is not normally given to civilians.

Gordon Brown and Malala galvanize action?

“Pakistan has a new heroine and a new cause — a girl’s right to education,” former British prime minister Gordon Brown wrote in an opinion piece published by CNN Friday.

Brown, who heads up the “I am Malala” campaign in his new roll as United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education, is touring Pakistan over the weekend to boost education with international funding and local initiatives. It was his office that declared Saturday Malala Day.

In the wake of Malala’s shooting, Brown is visiting schools, including one in Swat to be renamed for her. He is talking education for three days with Pakistan’s president, Cabinet ministers, educational NGOs, donors and a covey of U.N. charities.

“We now must deliver,” Brown writes. “But a more active, more engaged and more determined Pakistani people can ensure that education for all is no longer a slogan but a reality.”

Malala’s path from near mortal wound to recovery

In addition to removing the bullet, doctors extracted a piece of skull to relieve pressure on her brain due to swelling. Malala was taken by chopper from one military hospital in Pakistan to another, where doctors placed her in a medically induced coma, so an air ambulance could fly her to Great Britain for treatment.

“She is lucky to be alive,” Dr. Dave Rosser, the medical director of University Hospitals in Birmingham, UK, told reporters after her arrival.

Then came the light at the end of the tunnel. Examinations revealed that Malala suffered no major neurological damage.

Over a week after being shot a world away, Malala got back on her feet again, able to stand when leaning on a nurse’s arm at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Eager to communicate, she wrote sentences on paper – she couldn’t talk due to a tracheotomy.

“We have no reason to believe she won’t be able to talk when the tube is out,” Rosser said.

Chasing the perpetrators

Malik quickly placed a $1 million bounty on the head of the Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, after he claimed responsibility for Malala’s attack on behalf of the group.

Police immediately took the van driver and the school guard into custody for questioning and rounded up dozens in the course of the investigation.

They have identified the shooters as two boys, but their main suspect is an adult, who the police say drove the youths to the scene — Attah Ullah Khan, 23. All three were at large.

In an exclusive interview with CNN last week, Khan’s sister apologized to the Malala for his alleged involvement.

“What he did was intolerable,” Haleem said. “I don’t consider Atta Ullah my brother anymore.”

She called Malala her sister.

What’s next for Malala?

Malala will have to endure some more surgery, once she regains enough strength. Doctors at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham will replace the piece of skull extracted in Pakistan, and she also might need some work on her jaw.

She should not have to remain hospitalized for more than a few more weeks, before facing her new-found international fame.

She is no stranger to notoriety.

She has penned her online diary in cooperation with the BBC in the past, and has spoken to other media, including CNN. At home, her writings led to her being awarded Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize in late 2011.

But this is different.

With her nation’s and the world’s leaders and media speaking on her behalf, and schools, T-shirts, petitions, headlines and hashtags bearing her name, the level of public attention has taken a quantum leap forward.

From her hospital room in the UK, Malala has been asking for her school books, so she can study for exams she wants to take when she arrives back home in Pakistan.

She is all about education.

CNN’s Reza Sayah, Nasir Habib, Shaan Khan and journalist Saima Mohsin contributed to this report.