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Exclusive: Nairobi mall attack victim in rehab after unexpected leg amputation

WATCH ABOVE: Global’s Cindy Pom sits down with Fardowsa Abdi to discuss her recovery, rehab, and walking again.

TORONTO – A Toronto-born teen who was badly injured in September’s Nairobi mall attack is walking with a prosthetic leg and attending rehabilitation after a partial amputation.

“When you’ve been on a bed for two months, even rehab, it’s not the same thing as when you’re out of rehab,” Fardowsa Abdi told Global News reporter Cindy Pom. “Because your legs can actually do what they’re made for, which is to walk, to run, to exercise…I can’t run yet, but that’s the next step.”

Seventeen-year-old Abdi was grocery shopping with her younger sister at the Westgate Mall on Sept. 21, when members of the Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab attacked. She took the brunt of a grenade that hit both sisters.

Abdi’s leg was so badly injured, doctors in Kenya said they couldn’t help, so she was flown to Canada and had her first surgery at Toronto’s  Sunnybrook Hospital on Sept. 29.

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“I never thought I would get the chance to walk again, despite what everyone said,” said Abdi. “But when it finally did happen, the feeling was indescribable.”

Her uncle, Mohamed Hassan, said in November that doctors told him the partial amputation of her right leg was an unforeseen result of her injuries, as he was originally told she wouldn’t lose her leg.

Sunnybrook surgeon Dr. Hans Kreder said her leg could have been saved, but that could have caused complications like infections. It also would have meant Abdi would be in and out of the hospital for two to five years, he said.

Kreder said the “below knee” partial amputation was a faster way for the teen to get on with her life.

“Better than having a piece of flesh that looks like a leg but doesn’t work very well,” he said.

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Abdi said Tuesday that deciding to amputate was one of the most difficult choices she’s had to make.

“It was not guaranteed that my leg would ever go back to normal…I wouldn’t have graduated, I wouldn’t go to university; I’d just be on a hospital bed while everybody else moved on.”

Abdi is now walking with a prosthetic leg and attending rehabilitation at St. John’s Rehab, a Sunnybrook Hospital program.

Fardowsa Abdi
Fardowsa Abdi, seen with her new prosthetic leg. (Handout). Handout from family

She said the first step was dizzying after having been lying down for so long, but she’s starting to feel “in sync” with her new leg.

“It’s an object that you have to make move, it’s not really like your leg which does all the work. So I had to train my brain and my body to get used to the idea of having this extra component on me that I just kind of had to drag along.”

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St. John’s Rehab occupational therapist John Cho called the recovery she’s made so far “quite remarkable,” noting that she can already complete tasks like showering, unlike many of the clients he sees.

“Because she’s already accomplished quite a bit functionally, we’re going to focus on a little bit higher level goals,” said Cho. “I know she wants to return to running; she was an avid badminton player prior to the injuries. So as best as we can, we’d like to get her back to those types of goals.”

Cho said younger clients like Abdi often recover faster than older clients, suggesting she might spend anywhere from three to eight months in the rehab program.

“She’s young. She seemed fairly athletic prior to her injuries. She’s not overweight or anything like that, so that definitely helps in terms of recovery into the future,” he said.

The teen will start her final semester of high school Jan. 31 in Toronto, and is hoping to attend the University of Toronto in September 2014. She’s hoping for a program in neuroscience, psychology and biology, and wants to be a doctor.

“When you go through everything that I’ve been through, you realize that it’s a really important to do what doctors do, which is to help other people get back to normal, to be able to function properly,” she said. “It’s not just medical doctors, it’s also physiotherapists and people who sort of train your body to be able to do things like walk again, when you wouldn’t be able to do it by yourself.”

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Abdi’s sister, Dheeman, also suffered an explosion-related injury to her hand and a gunshot wound to her leg. Dheeman was released from a Kenyan hospital soon after the attack, and arrived in Toronto in October after recovering in Nairobi.

The girls were born in Toronto and lived there with their Somali-born parents until four years ago, when they returned to Kenya.

There were 62 civilians, including two Canadians, killed in the Sept. 21 terrorist attack — the worst on Kenyan soil since the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Nairobi.

Al-Shabab said the attack was in retaliation for Kenya’s involvement with Somali government efforts to drive out the extremist group.

With files from Cindy Pom