Brussels terror attack survivor Nidhi Chaphekar set to fly as air hostess once again

Dec 21, 2018, 09:10 IST | Hemal Ashar

Twenty-one surgeries later, Nidhi Chaphekar, the face of the airport bombing of 2016, will go back to job as air hostess with Jet Airways

Brussels terror attack survivor Nidhi Chaphekar set to fly as air hostess once again
Nidhi became the face of the Brussels terror attack after this picture went viral, showing her sitting shell-shocked on the floor of Zaventem airport. file pic

More than two years have passed since Mumbai air hostess Nidhi Chaphekar became the face of the 2016 Brussels terror attack after the picture of her blood-streaked, shell-shocked face went viral. After 21 surgeries to repair the injuries from the bombings, she is now just one operation away from returning to the skies in her old job.

Nidhi Chaphekar, 43, was an air hostess with Jet Airways and was at Zaventem airport in Brussels on March 22, 2016, when it became the target of one of the worst terror attacks on European soil. The gritty blast survivor has gone back to work as ground crew for the airlines. She is also a motivational speaker. Her biggest desire, however, is to hold a 'Fit to Fly' certificate in her hands and take to the skies again. She had hoped that she would finally be able to fly again this year, after a series of surgeries to repair the bombing injuries. "I think it is 21 [surgeries], I have lost count," she said with a laugh.

Nidhi Chaphekar is to undergo gall bladder surgery tomorrow
Nidhi Chaphekar is to undergo gall bladder surgery tomorrow

But the air hostess from Andheri got disappointing news when she went for a check-up in mid-2018. The former cabin manager said, "I went to the Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM), which usually conducts medicals for captains. But since I was a special case, I had tests done there. I passed all my tests like human engineering, where they test leg strength, etc. I passed my eye test, ear test. When my abdominal scan was done, though, it showed multiple stones in my gall bladder.

I returned to Mumbai and did another scan, which showed the same." She added, "I could not get an MRI as my body still has metal shrapnel lodged inside from the bomb blast." Tomorrow, Nidhi will go to Breach Candy Hospital for a gall bladder surgery. "This will be the surgery after which I hope to be medically fit to fly again," she said.

Nidhi Chaphekar (in blue) at a peace summit held in the city in September. She is with police officers from the US, where they presented her with the New York Police Department award
Nidhi Chaphekar (in blue) at a peace summit held in the city in September. She is with police officers from the US, where they presented her with the New York Police Department award

Long recovery
Nidhi's healing journey is marked with so many milestones but one she recalls most vividly is visiting Belgium in 2017. When the medical teams who had treated her in that country first saw her walking, they called it 'a miracle'. Nidhi recalled that they told her they had thought she would never walk again. They had very nearly amputated her legs post the attack, but said they were glad they did not.

'Face' of Brussels terror airport attack Nidhi Chaphekar returns home

Nidhi said, "I am still healing. My son [16] and daughter [13] get a little taken aback or feel awkward when a stranger sometimes remarks on my scarred hands, but I always tell them, 'You cannot control others' mindsets'" Hailing from a small village called Rajasansi, near Amritsar airport, Nidhi is not new to struggle. "I have carved my life's trajectory. As a motivational speaker, I tell schoolchildren here that they are very lucky to live in a Metro; they have all the conveniences and opportunities."

"When I fly again, it will not be for money but for victims of any and all disasters in the world. I want to tell them that you are the pilot of your mind, you will have turbulence in your life, some days will not be so good, but you have to take the flight, finish it and land right," signed off Nidhi, for whom the sky is literally the limit.

Doctorspeak
Dr Nilesh Doctor, specialist surgeon in Hepatobiliary Surgery at Breach Candy Hospital, will be operating on Nidhi. He told mid-day, "Her inner strength shines through. Initially, she was traumatised that she would have to go through surgery once again, after so many procedures. Then, she courageously took it her stride." He added, "Nidhi is so strong and brave, I can assure you that she will get a Fit to Fly certificate in a week post-procedure."

Brussels bombings
On March 22, 2016, three coordinated suicide bombings, two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek Metro station in central Brussels killed 32 people and left at least 300 injured.

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