When most of the world came to know Malala Yousafzai, she had just been shot by a Taliban gunman on her school bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley. The first time she was seen in the days following the attack, she was unconscious, listless, clinging to life as she was carried around by stretcher.
Multiple hospitals, thousands of miles, and nearly three months later, the 15-year old this week walked out of the Birmingham, England hospital where she has been treated, smiling and waving to the hospital camera, with a long road to recovery ahead but the worst of it, now behind her.
In a statement from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where the teenage education advocate has been treated since October 15th of last year, Medical Director Dr. Dave Rosser said Malala's team of doctors discharged her Thursday, deciding "that she would benefit from being at home with her parents and two brothers."
Malala's father,Ziauddin, her mother, Toorpekai, and two younger brothers, Khushal and Atul, followed her to Birmingham and have been staying in accomodations near the hospital. Sources close to the family say they are enjoying finally being together again, and that Malala and her father remain committed to their cause of education for all. At the moment, however, sources say their priority remains Malala's full recovery.
She had been making short visits to where her family was staying in recent weeks, but will now be treated on an outpatient basis at the hospital, making future visits for check-ups and continuing treatment. According to hospital officials, her final surgery should take place at the end of January or beginning of February. During that cranial reconstruction, doctors will replace the part of her skull that had been removed soon after she was shot to allow her brain to swell without causing Malala further damage. The original skull fragment or a custom-built titanium plate will be used in that process.
Hospital sources have called Malala's recovery "remarkable," particularly considering she was shot in the head at point-blank range, but warn that she has a long physical and psychological recovery ahead. She has been seen in brief video clips and photographs released periodically by the hospital, but has yet to speak publicly since she was attacked.
Malala's father, also a vocal education advocate in Pakistan who runs the school she attended in the town of Mingora, has been speaking on his daughter's behalf since she was silenced last October.
In a video message released in November, he thanked the millions around the world who had rallied to support his daughter, and pledged to continue his education advocacy, saying, "We can't compromise on the peace and prosperity of our future generations. And we must accept the reality that education is a right, not a privilege." Ziauddin Yousafzai and Pakistani officials have repeatedly said that Malala and her family will return to Pakistan once she recovered, but an announcement by Pakistan's government this week makes that seem unlikely.
Officials tell NBC News the family's UK visas are set to expire in March. In an effort to keep the family together, and allow Malala to continue her treatment in Birmingham, the Goverment of Pakistan this week created a diplomatic post for Ziauddin, naming him Education Attache in their Birmingham Consulate.
The post permits him and his family to stay in England for up to five years, and affords them accommodations, transportation, and a steady salary. Pakistan's government has been covering the cost of Malala's care and her family's foreign expenses since she was attacked, and has pledged to continue to pay for her treatment.
Back in Mingora, Malala's schoolmates tell NBC they pray for Malala's recovery, and her return.
Classmate Shazia Rehman, also shot in the attack on Malala, has recovered and returned to their school. She's spoken to Malala by telephone, and says Malala expressed concern about future attacks if and when she returned.
"She's a daughter of Swat," said Shazia. "The work that she's done here, the way she's always talked about girls' education in Swat, it is her obligation to return here."
The school remains under armed guard, and Shazia is escorted every day by another guard. The Taliban have pledged to try again to kill Malala, and her father, when they return to Pakistan.