Sunshine story: Mumbai girl who's head was smashed by falling frying pan recovers
Callous Mumbai's freak mishap victim, who hit headlines after a frying pan fell from a SoBo high-rise and left her in coma, Hazequa Kapadia says all she wants is to be her naughty self again
Faizan Kapadia, a garage owner, helps daughter Hazequa into a headstand. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
It's 11.20 am on a Friday, when Faizan AK Kapadia leads us to the 22-storey KSA Danish Villa in Mumbai Central. As he points to the spot where a frying pan came flying down from the hig-rise, cracking his eight-year-old daughter Hazequa's skull, he looks at his watch: "It happened at exactly this time, on the same day [of the week] on March 31, last year." The coincidence is eerie.
A year on, Hazequa, now nine, appears to be a shadow of her former self. Sitting on a rug, inside her one-room house, which is a lane away from the site of the accident, she speaks, but haltingly. Her words are measured, and her voice soft. "Hello didi," she manages, before withdrawing back to watching a YouTube video on her father's cellphone. "This isn't how she used to be," her paternal aunt, Nazima Kapadia tells us. "Hazequa was a chirpy and playful girl.
After a year of rehabilitation and therapy, Hazequa Kapadia is slowly getting back to being her old self again. She manages to clamber up the windows of her home, like she used to do before the accident.
She was among the naughtiest kids in our neighbourhood. You'd always find her running around. She wants to be the same spunky girl, but things are far from normal." For the family, it's been a year-long struggle to ensure that Hazequa not just recovers from the trauma, but also lives like a regular child. Part of the battle was long won by Hazequa herself, who fought her way to miraculously survive the accident. "She is a fighter," her father says.
Nazima's eyes turn moist as she recounts that day. "She is the apple of my eye," says the aunt, who lives with Faizan, his wife Sadiqua and the couple's four children, in their family home. "When I woke her up that morning, I told her not to go for tuitions and, instead, study with me," she recalled. At the time, Hazequa, who was studying in Std III at St Joseph's High School, Agripada, was preparing for her final exams. The girl, however, insisted on going for her tuition class, which is a stone's throw away from her house, after attending an exhibition at her school.
Hazequa with her parents Faizan and Sadiqua, and her siblings Mohd. Zaka, 7, Mohd. Zidaan, 5, and Zikra, 4
"While returning home from tuition, she met a friend below KSA Danish Villa. The two girls were chatting, when a tawa came hurtling down and hit her head," says Faizan. From what the Kapadias were told, the girl collapsed and fell unconscious. Even as a crowd gathered around her, a tea stall owner, Bilal Abdul Sattar Ansari, who runs his shop below the Kapadias's residence, lifted the bleeding child and called out to Faizan, who was at home at the time. The two rushed Hazequa to Nair Hospital.
"By then, she had stopped breathing. Fortunately, at Nair, we managed to get the only ventilator available," he recalls. In a matter of hours, help came in from corporator Rais Shaikh and their neighbour Sufiyan Ghulam Hussain Ansari, who handles the accounts at Saboo Siddique Hospital. "The doctors at Nair weren't confident that she'd survive, but Shaikh and Ansari ensured that she was never taken off the ventilator," the 42-year-old father says. She was shifted to Bombay Hospital that same weekend.
But, neurosurgeon Dr Keki E Turel carried out the surgery only 15 days later, as her condition was still critical — the impact of the tawa had fractured her skull, causing two fragments to pierce her brain and lodge there, the surgery was carried out to remove these fragments, about 4.5cm long, and reattach them to original position. It would take another 40-odd days for Hazequa to regain consciousness. She was discharged on June 5, after spending two months and five days in hospital. The family is grateful to Dr Turel, who didn't charge for the operation, and the several trusts — Tata, Khidmad and Al Hamd — and NGOs that funded her medical bills, which ran into lakhs.
Road to recovery
But, recovery didn't happen overnight. The family was not sure if they should get Hazequa to attend school despite St Joseph's promoting her to Std IV. "Her health was our priority," Nazima says.
"She could not hold a pencil, let alone walk. She is the same girl who bagged top awards in sports, and not being able to move without support broke her," she adds. But, corporator Shaikh insisted they send her to school, so that it would take her mind off her condition. On special request, Nazima, was allowed to sit with her in class and take down all the notes for her. "The school administration and students were mindful of her condition. As her class was on the fourth floor, and the common toilet on the ground floor, they also opened the staff loo for us," Nazima adds. Meanwhile, her physical, occupational and speech therapies continued at Nair.
Safety nets have now been put at the base of the 22-storey KSA Danish Villa to ensure things falling from the tower don't cause mishaps
But, what the family was not prepared for, was the change in Hazequa's behaviour. "She had become irritable and moody because she couldn't do things like regular children," says Faizan. "At school, she would sit or lie down on the floor. Sometimes, she would start throwing her books, and if we tried to stop her, she would bite us," Nazima says. Worried that she would lose the academic year, Hazequa was taken to a psychiatrist at Nair Hospital. After medicines were given to stabilise her mood, her condition started improving. The school allowed Hazequa to give her first unit exams orally, because she was still having difficulty processing long words and sentences. For the first semester exams, the parents requested the principal to provide a student to help her write the papers.
"While a student from Std III assisted her, Hazequa insisted on writing the final two papers — General Knowledge and Value Education — by herself. We were surprised with her scores: she got 20.5 and 22.5 out of 25 in the respective papers," says Nazima. Though her handwriting remains shaky and her writing speed is painfully slow, Hazequa appeared for her final exams last month on her own. "Her attention span has reduced considerably and she tires very quickly, but she ensured that she didn't get a re-test. We are really proud of her," says Faizan.
Hazequa was taken off medication last November, and is currently only going through physio and occupational therapies. She walks, sits and stands on her own, but has trouble with balance. "Doctors have said that if we continue her physiotherapy, she will be back to normal soon. But, it's too expensive to afford and hence, we have to rely on the free sessions at Nair," says Faizan, who runs a garage in the area. In July last year, she also started swimming classes at the YMCA in Mumbai Central. Allen Kotian, senior secretary executive of the club, got her to enroll for free. "It took her nearly seven months to stop using the float and swim deep. The progress has been slow, but she has been patient with herself," says Faizan.
Life turned topsy-turvy
The building from where the pan was flung can be seen from Kapadias's window. It's a cruel reminder of that tragic day. The police conducted investigations for months on end and even lodged an FIR, but were unable to make any headway. From the impact of the blow, Faizan says that the cops were able to guage that the frying pan had been thrown from the 10th floor or above. "It weighed 1.8 kg," he says. After Hazequa was discharged, the family decided against pursuing the matter. "Just like building a false case requires money, so does telling the truth," says Nazima, adding, "It was impossible to focus on anything else, other than Hazequa." "We are ready to forgive the person who did this to our daughter. But, nobody has come forward [to admit their mistake]," adds Faizan.
Hazequa, who by now, has warmed to our presence, decides to show us a video of her taken months before the incident. In the clip, she has long hair, one which she was most possessive of, but had to chop off due to the head injury. She is seen performing headstands, before crawling her way up the grilled windows of her home and jumping on to the cupboard. She watches the video for a few minutes, and then, without any nudging, says, "I'll show you how to do it." Her right foot still trembles, but she gathers the strength, holds the grill tight and climbs up. "Capture this on video," she tells Faizan.
Safety nets next door
Mohd Ayub Ansari, the builder of KSA Danish Villa says, "Even before the incident, we had safety grills on all the windows of KSA Danish Villa. Unfortunately, residents used these grills to dry clothes and place goods. The tawa is likely to have been kept inside the grill, when it accidentally fell on the street. Since then, I have ensured that we take all safety measures possible. I personally went and met with the residents and asked them to stop keeping things in the box grills. Now, we have also covered all the windows with meshes. Yes, the incident was unfortunate, and should not have happened. But, the situation has improved and there has been no untoward incident since."
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