By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - A Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education is to return to a specialist hospital in Britain for surgery to reconstruct her skull.
Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in October and brought to Britain for treatment, was discharged from the hospital earlier this month to spend time with her family after her initial treatment phase.
Her doctors said on Wednesday she would return to hospital within the next 10 days to undergo surgery known as titanium cranioplasty to repair a missing area of her skull with a specially molded titanium plate.
The shooting of Yousufzai, in the head at point blank range as she left school in the Swat valley, drew widespread international condemnation.
She has become an internationally recognized symbol of resistance to the Taliban's efforts to deny women education and other rights, and more than 250,000 people have signed online petitions calling for her to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism.
British doctors who treated Yousufzai say the bullet hit her left brow but instead of penetrating her skull, traveled underneath the skin along the side of her head and into her shoulder.
The shock wave shattered the thinnest bone of the skull and the soft tissues at the base of her jaw were damaged. The bullet and its fracture lines also destroyed her eardrum and the bones for hearing, rendering her deaf in her left ear.
She is being cared for in a specialist department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, central England, which has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Dave Rosser, the hospital's medical director, said a procedure to insert a cochlear implant to restore her left side hearing and the complicated skull reconstruction surgery would be carried out by a team of 10 doctors and nurses.
The skull will be repaired with a 0.6 mm plate molded from a 3D model created using imaging data from Malala's skull.
The cranioplasty, which is expected to take between one and two hours, will be carried out first, followed by the cochlear implant operation, which should take around 90 minutes, Rosser said in a statement.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)