NEW DELHI/BRUSSELS: Nidhi Chaphekar, an Indian flight attendant, badly wounded in the Brussels airport terror attack one year ago, is hopeful that she will one day be declared medically fit to return to the skies.
As Belgium marked the first anniversary of the Islamic State bombings in Brussels, the deadliest terror attack in the country's history, with a memorial service at Zaventem airport, Chaphekar, who still has a few surgeries to go, is hopeful that she could resume her duty. "It's my passion," the 41-year-old told CNN about her working as a flight attendant with Jet Airways.
"I don't want to be a hindrance in the safety of others. [If] I'm medically fit, I would want to fly," she said. A photograph of Chaphekar had become a defining image of the March 22 bombing in the Brussels airport and subway that killed 32 people and wounded 270 others. Chaphekar had suffered burns to her face and other parts of her body, a fractured foot and had embedded metal all over.
She was placed into a medically induced coma for 23 days. "[My] state was deteriorating day by day because of some metal pieces still left [that] looked like bone," she said. She said doctors initially struggled to stabilise her condition. In mid-April, she woke up for the first time since the explosions, but she did not know who she was.
A few days later on April 18, she regained her memory. It was shortly after that when she saw the iconic photo of hers for the first time and she says she struck by how defenseless she appeared. "As an air hostess, we being first aiders for others, I was feeling helpless at that moment, I was unable to help. It was a very awful scenario to accept," she recalls vividly. "It shows the pain you have, everything," she said, recalling the life-changing incident.
The journey to recovery has been a long and difficult process, but Chaphekar says she has simply faced each obstacle one at a time. "There were hardships. I was unable to walk ... I tried different solutions for the problems. Every day was a new problem. But I said 'No, I have to handle it.'"
Chaphekar says it was an honour for her and her husband Rupesh to meet King Philippe of Belgium and Queen Mathilde in Brussels on Monday. While conflicted about her feelings, Chaphekar says she chooses to focus on the positive. "I look at it in this way to give hope to others that life is a case of ups and downs. It is like a roller coaster -- you will be up, you will be down. It moves fast, it moves slow," she says.
"I want to tell people that alone you cannot survive. You need a person. Our survival depends on each others' survival. We need to plant the seeds of love and compassion. We need to water them with faith and relationships. And reap the beautiful fruits of peace and prosperity," she added.