Shot Pakistani girl responds well to treatment in Britain

A student showed her support on Tuesday for Malala Yousufzai, 14, in Lahore, Pakistan.
Mohsin Raza/Reuters
A student showed her support on Tuesday for Malala Yousufzai, 14, in Lahore, Pakistan.

BIRMINGHAM, England — A teenage Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education has responded well to treatment and impressed doctors with her strength, the British hospital where she was being treated said Tuesday.

Specialists are optimistic that 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who was airlifted Monday to Britain to receive specialized medical care, has a good chance of recovery because the brains of teenagers are still growing and can adapt to trauma better than adults’ can.

There was some concern for the teenager’s safety Tuesday when police stopped and questioned two people who tried to visit Yousufzai, but hospital officials and police stressed there was no threat. The two people, who said they were Yousufzai’s relatives, were turned away.


‘‘We think it’s probably people being overcurious,’’ hospital spokesman Dr. Dave Rosser said.

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Despite the early optimism, the full extent of Yousufzai’s brain injuries has not been made public and outside specialists cautioned it is extremely unlikely that a full recovery of all her brain’s functions can be made.

Instead, they could only hope that the bullet took a ‘‘lucky path’’ — going through a more ‘‘silent,’’ or less active — part of the brain.

‘‘You don’t have a bullet go through your brain and have a full recovery,’’ said Dr. Jonathan Fellus, chief scientific officer at the New Jersey-based International Brain Research Foundation.

Yousufzai was returning home from school in Pakistan last week when she was targeted by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education and criticizing the militant group’s behavior when they took over the scenic Swat Valley where she lived. Two of her classmates were also wounded in the attack and are receiving treatment in Pakistan.


She arrived Monday in Britain, where she can be protected from follow-up attacks threatened by the militants. The Taliban have threatened to target Yousufzai again because she promotes ‘‘Western thinking.’’

Pakistani doctors at a military hospital earlier removed a bullet from Yousufzai’s body that entered her head and headed toward her spine. The military has said she was able to move her legs and hands several days ago when her sedatives were reduced. They have not said whether she had any brain damage or other permanent damage.

On Monday, the military said damaged bones in Yousufzai’s skull will need to be repaired or replaced, and she will need ‘‘intensive neuro rehabilitation.’’ The decision to send the girl abroad was taken in consultation with her family, and the Pakistani government will pay for her treatment.

Doctors say Yousufzai has an advantage because teens are generally healthier and their bodies have a stronger ability to react to the disruption that the injury causes.

‘‘It helps to be young and resilient to weather that storm,’’ Fellus, at the International Brain Research Foundation, said. ‘‘Because her brain is continuing to develop at that age, she may have more flexibility in the brain.’’


There’s also a psychological aspect to why youngsters have a better chance at recovery. While injured adults often mourn the loss of what they had, teens don’t know what they are missing.