20 Jun 2019

Long road to recovery for those injured in Christchurch mosque attacks

From Checkpoint, 5:46 pm on 20 June 2019

While the shock of the Christchurch terror attacks might be wearing off for some New Zealanders, some of the injured are facing a lifetime of pain and bracing for more rounds of surgery.

One of those people maimed by the attacker's bullets was Ahmed Iqbal Jahangir, who was present at the Linwood mosque where seven died.

The father-of-two was in a coma for four days after the shooting and spent eight weeks in hospital recovering from a shattered collarbone and damage to vital organs, including his lungs, which needed multiple surgeries.

He still has no movement in his right hand which continues to cause him daily pain, requiring 30 different kinds of medication.

This week he was in hospital yet again for bone grafts to repair his collarbone.

But he said he was thankful to still be alive and remembered thinking on the day of the attack that he might not pull through. 

"I was trying my best to you know, keep myself awake, alive until I reached the hospital. And I remember now, in the ambulance going to the hospital I have been asking questions like, 'how far are we from the hospital?' I don't want to close my eyes before that."

When the shooting started, Ahmed rushed next door to the womens' prayer room and warned them to take cover. 

"Being chairman of this Linwood mosque I had responsibility on my shoulders to see if I could save everyone."

Once people had taken cover he walked over to where he thought the gunman might be.

"I thought I'll just slowly sneak and see where exactly he is and how I can rescue everyone. I just came out of those partition walls and he was right in front of me and bang, that is the time when I just fell to the ground ... the whole situation was really horrible, like, you know, thinking about my wife and kids."

That day is still hard for Ahmed to talk about.

"I just don't want to remember all those things ... but I just can't wipe it off ... that is what happened."

Ahmed's wife fractured her shoulder and was wounded by pieces of broken glass.

She worked hard to help him while they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

"I still remember that my mouth was filling with blood and I was spitting out all the blood because I knew that I should not intake the blood otherwise my lungs will get damaged.

"I felt that I had lost all my control in my hand. My hand was in terrible pain. I was trying to you know, hold my hand and get up from the ground but I couldn't do it. I didn't know whether I will be able to reach the hospital or not."

Ahmed is full of praise for the job the police and ambulance officers did that day.

After four days in a coma, Ahmed finally woke up, finding himself in a hospital bed with tubes in his arms, nose and mouth.

"They did quite a few surgeries, they have opened up all of my upper body and did multiple surgeries to save me and they said that my collar bone is broken. Basically the bullet injured the upper part of my lungs, had broken my collar bone and [damaged] my nerves, as a result of which I have lost [all movement in] my hand."

When RNZ talked to Ahmed, he was just one day out from yet another round of surgery.

This time surgeons have taken bone from his hip to help reconstruct his shattered collar bone.

But it won't fix everything and he's been told to get ready to live with, and manage, constant pain.

"I'm in horrible pain now. But I promised you that I'll talk to you so I'm just sitting here after taking a lot of pain relief. I'm just trying to, you know, laugh out my pain. According to the doctors there's no medicine that can ... cure the pain."

Instead he was on a cocktail of drugs to help him cope.

"Initially, I used to take about 40 pills per day ... just to manage my pain. And slowly we have reduced it and I am taking somewhere between 20 to 30 medicines still to control it and while the time goes on, I may be able to reduce it more."

After he recovered from his latest round of surgery, there was one more operation to come in October.

"They are planning to implant a nerve on my neck. They will [use] a nerve from my leg and so it's going to be another big one."

Despite everything he was going through now, Ahmed thanked Allah for sparing his life.

He believed somehow that good had been drawn out of the evil of that dark day. 

"I used to feel so great and so happy when I used to see people standing at the driveway to the mosque. Not the ones who are Muslims, they were from different religions, they were from different community. 

"They used to stand there to say, don't worry, we are all one. They used to bring flowers. It makes you feel so, so happy, so strong. Police always protecting the mosques, it is wonderful. It is wonderful. Whatever happened, definitely should not have happened but this has proved that we are all one."

Ahmed's restaurant Bawarchi, specialising in the food of his home town of Hyderabad in India, had to take a short hiatus while he recovered.

He could not wait to be able to open the doors once more and get back to some sort of normality.

Despite everything that had happened, Christchurch, where he had lived with his family for the past eleven years, would always be home, he said.