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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Beslan, A Dream to Walk Again

For MTBella Avsanova, a 17-year-old, is paralyzed on her left side due to brain injuries sustained in the Beslan attack.
BESLAN, North Ossetia -- High school senior Bella Avsanova says she has not given up hope of walking again. In her dreams, the beautiful voice of Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli and songs from romantic French musicals block out the hostages' screams.

With a 17-year-old's optimism, Bella, a demure brunette with bright blue eyes, pushed herself up with her right hand and tried to stand. But the left side of her body -- almost completely paralyzed from injuries sustained in the attack -- did not respond, and she fell back on to the sofa.

"One day, I'll do it," she said, trying to smile.

Bella and her mother, Fatima Avsanova, a lab technician at School No. 1 for 25 years, were among the 1,000 children and adults taken hostage in the Sept. 1-3, 2004, school seizure.

But after a huge blast ripped apart the wall of the gym where they were being kept, Bella was left lying on the floor with debris from the explosion in her body, including a large fragment that lodged in the right side of her brain.

Since that day, she has been unable to stand unaided. Her left arm and her left leg are virtually paralyzed.

She has undergone two operations in a private Moscow hospital, where doctors rebuilt the damaged part of her skull, but her dream -- to take her place in the languages department at the university in Vladikavkaz -- still seems a long way off.

"Bella needs a full course of rehabilitation," said her mother, who also underwent small operations to remove fragments.

Fatima Avsanova has been waiting in vain for more than three months for a letter from the Heath and Social Development Ministry authorizing the treatment.

"Without the letter, we cannot go to the private hospital that treated Bella, since we don't have the money to pay," Avsanova said.

With the rehabilitation, Bella, who was left-handed before the attack, could eventually relearn how to use the left side of her body, Avsanova said.

Some small fragments are still inside Bella's brain. The doctors said she had to be careful not to disturb them, Avsanova said.

"The doctors told us that Bella should not go through any metal detectors, just in case. They don't know what material the fragments are made of, and if some of them are made of metal, they could heat up and further damage her brain," Avsanova said.

Despite not getting the treatment she needs, Bella has, little by little, learned to use her right hand instead of her left and now can manage to feed herself, more or less unaided.

"I felt so sorry for her," said Valentina, one of Bella's sisters. "At first, her right hand would twist and she would spill food on herself. Now, she can manage to put food into her mouth without spilling it."


Yana Voitova / For MT

Fatima Avsanova is waiting for authorization for treatment for her daughter.

During the anniversary of last year's attack, thousands of Beslan residents went to School No. 1 to remember the victims. But Bella, haunted by her memories of school friends and neighbors who died there, stayed away, mourning them at home.

"I've yet to go back to the school -- and I never will, even when I'm able to walk. It was the best school in Beslan, with so much light -- it was full of children. I still remember their cheerful voices echoing through the corridors," Bella said.

"That school has been turned into a ruin now. I'm sure that there are still human remains all over the walls. There's no way they could have cleaned up that mess. I could never forgive myself if I stepped over someone's remains or their blood," she said.

For Fatima Avsanova, as for thousands in Beslan, Sept. 1 will never be a cause for celebration again.

"In our house, for the first day of school, grandma would get up early in the morning to bake Ossetian pies. After school, we would eat them and celebrate the beginning of a new school year," Avsanova said.

"It won't be like that anymore."