Queen Elizabeth Hospital's medical director David Rosser said doctors at the highly specialised hospital, where British service personnel wounded in Afghanistan are treated, were beginning to plan for the complex procedures but they would not be carried out in the coming days.    — Photo by AFP

BIRMINGHAM: Malala Yousufzai is making progress in a British hospital, doctors said on Tuesday, as police turned away visitors claiming to be relatives.

The 14-year-old girl, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Mingora last week, was in a stable condition on her first full day in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham after being flown to the city in central England in an air ambulance.

The hospital’s medical director David Rosser said she had had a “comfortable night”.

“We are very pleased with the progress she’s made so far,” he told reporters.

“She is showing every sign of being every bit as strong as we’ve been led to believe.

“Malala will need reconstructive surgery and we have international experts in that field.”

He said doctors at the highly specialised hospital – where British service personnel wounded in Afghanistan are treated – were beginning to plan for the complex procedures but they would not be carried out in the coming days.

Malala has been assessed by clinicians from the neurosurgery, imaging, trauma and therapy departments, though “very specialist teams” who may become involved further down the line are yet to perform detailed assessments on her injuries, Mr Rosser added.

The teenager had a bullet removed from her skull last week.

Given that she was targeted for assassination by a Taliban gunman, security measures are in place at the hospital.

Mr Rosser said there had been some “irritating incidents” overnight in which people “claiming to be members of Malala’s family – which we don’t believe to be true” had turned up.

A West Midlands Police spokesman said two “well-wishers” were questioned by officers who took their details and turned them away.

“No arrests were made and at no point was there any threat to Malala,” he said.

Mr Rosser added: “We think it’s probably people being over-curious. They didn’t get very far.”

Birmingham has a 100,000-strong ethnic Pakistani community – a tenth of the city’s population.

Meanwhile, experts are optimistic that Malala has a good chance of recovery because unlike adults, the brains of teenagers are still growing and can adapt to trauma better.

“Her response to treatment so far indicated that she could make a good recovery from her injuries,” the Queen Elizabeth Hospital said in a statement.

Despite the early optimism, the full extent of Malala’s brain injuries has not been made public and outside experts 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.

Doctors say Malala 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,” Dr Fellus 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 shot at recovery. While injured adults often mourn the loss of what they had, teens don’t know what they are missing.

“They have an amazing capacity for hope,” Dr Fellus said. In Malala’s case, her strong personality would also help her recover, he added.

Still, experts cautioned that it is impossible to say how Malala will do without knowing the path of the bullet and what damage it caused, details that have not been released.“The brain is like real estate,” said Dr Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery at The Brooklyn Hospital Centre in New York. “Location is everything. Based on the information we have, it appears that Malala was shot from the front down diagonally, but we don’t know what part of the brain the bullet went through, whether it crossed the midline and hit any vessels, or whether the bullet passed through the right or left side of the brain.”—Agencies

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