CORRECTION APPENDED: Jan. 4, 2013
Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head in October by a Taliban assassin, has been discharged from the British hospital that had been treating her since Oct. 16.
In the space of three months, the teenager from the Swat Valley has become a symbol for women’s rights and girls’ right to education. She first rose to prominence when, as an 11-year-old, she began writing an anonymous blog for the BBC Urdu service, describing her life under the Taliban’s growing influence. She also wrote about education, a passion inherited from her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a teacher and education-rights activist.
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Described by many around her as a precocious child, Malala has proved to be an articulate and capable orator: In 2008, her father took her to a local press-club event in Peshawar, where she delivered a speech titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” Since her shooting, this speech and many others have gone viral on the Web, even inspiring a speech competition in her name in Dubai. Indeed, the Taliban’s violent response to her increasing outspokenness has amplified her voice far more than anyone believed possible.
Flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, after the shooting, Malala underwent intense treatment under an equally intense media spotlight. Part of her skull had been removed by doctors in Pakistan to relieve pressure on her swelling brain. The gunman’s bullet pierced the skin on the left side of her head and ended up in her shoulder. She now has a titanium plate in place of the part of the skull that was removed.
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Malala is set to continue her treatment at her family’s temporary home in Birmingham before undergoing further cranial-reconstruction surgery in late January or early February, according to the hospital’s trust. Experts believe that it will be some time before the long-term effects can be understood. “It’s six months to a year before you get a sense of what the long-term damage is,” says Dr. Kritis Dasgupta, the medical director of the Brain Injury Program at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington. “Young people do much better, prognostically, for recovery.” In a video released by the hospital, Malala is seen walking through the corridors, smiling and waving goodbye to the nurses who had treated her. Dr. Dave Rosser, the hospital trust’s medical director, said in a statement: “Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery.”
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It looks as if Malala, at least in the near future, will not be going back to Pakistan, where the Taliban have vowed to kill her. Her father, who established the Khushal School and College that she attended, has been offered a diplomatic post at Pakistan’s consulate in Birmingham. The U.K.’s High Commission for Pakistan issued a statement on Jan. 4 stating that Yousafzai, who has been appointed the education attaché, will be given a post for three years, though this may be extended to five. “The president had also directed high commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan to look after the needs of Malala and discuss with Mr. Yousafzai a mode for financial sustenance and accommodation of the family,” said the statement.
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Malala will have to focus on her long-term recovery. The question is what her long-term deficits will be, compared with her baseline, says Dasgupta. But it is clear that Malala’s passion for her cause has not been quelled. Within weeks of arriving in Birmingham, she was seen with a book in hand and headscarf draped over her head, insisting that even in her most vulnerable moment she be pictured as a fighter rather than a victim.
A previous version of this article erroneously stated that the bullet had to be removed from Malala’s brain. It entered the skin behind her left eye, ending up in the muscle above her left shoulder. The article also implied that the procedure to remove part of her skull took place in Britain. It took place in Pakistan.