Counting his blessings

Misadventure during pilgrimage nearly derails student’s dental school journey
May 13th, 2019

Husnain Shahid will graduate with the Class of 2019.

Fourth-year dental student Husnain Shahid knows you can’t control everything, despite meticulous planning. Take, for instance, his graduation from dental school, which was well on track and nearing reality by late 2018.

Just six months shy of graduation, a tragic event threatened to derail Shahid’s entire year. Luckily, his knack for working ahead was his saving grace. Walking across that stage takes on a whole different meaning this month.

A Saudi Arabian mountaintop pilgrimage over Thanksgiving break, one that went horribly awry and nearly cost him everything, changed Shahid’s

Top, from left: Shahid’s father, Shahid Latif, friend D2 Abdullah Murad and sister Sanum Shahid. Bottom, from left: Husnain Shahid, brother Husban Shahid and D4 Amjad Saleh.

perspective on life forever. A peaceful trek up Mt. Jabal al-Nour before sunrise turned to harrowing drama similar to an action-packed “Indiana Jones” film, he says, complete with careening boulders and the worst of Mother Nature – except with real-life consequences.

A group of about 20, including Shahid and two younger siblings, as well as some dental school friends and a cousin and his wife, started their hour-plus climb up the manmade trail steps. Their goal was to reach the mountaintop Cave of Hira where the first verses of the Quran were revealed to The Prophet.

Shahid and his friends hung back to make sure the slowest members of their party weren’t left behind, which split the group in half. The faster group was already descending from the cave when the weather took an ominous turn. Despite being warned by a descending stranger to turn back because of approaching rain (there had been only a 20% chance), the slower group trudged upward. They soon regretted that decision. The most horrific rainstorm Shahid says he’s ever seen opened up with lightning strikes and baseball-size hail.

The cave was a momentary respite from the storm as incoming trekkers pushed Shahid’s group toward the exit. They took refuge under a metal roof. As Shahid’s brother Husban held onto one of the support poles, a lightning bolt hit the metal. Husban suffered a seizure, only to wake up screaming that his arms felt like they were on fire. Shahid knew they had to get down pronto.

The deluge caused torrential runoff “all the way up to our knees, making it hard to walk and even see the steps of the mountain. Every time lightning struck, Husban would fall down to the ground in fear,” Shahid says.

They dodged lightning and tumbling boulders the size of cars as they scrambled down the return path, by then a river of rushing water. One accident after another, they barely made it off the mountainside alive.

Husnain Shahid (bottom right) credits friends and doctors on the trip for easing the battered group’s journey, especially his friend from the University of Texas at Dallas, Ubaid Murad (top right), who is also D2 Abdullah Murad’s brother.

With the kindness of their uninjured friends, including D2 Abdullah Murad, and strangers, Shahid’s party made it to the base. Shahid’s cousin and his wife were taken away by ambulance. The others were spirited away by taxis that Shahid’s unscathed sister, Sanum, had summoned.

The final toll: Shahid, fractured ankle, bruising and lacerations, two chipped teeth; brother Husban, temporary amnesia and neuro problems, lightning burns, two broken ribs; cousin Zohaib Shahid, pelvic injuries, thigh infection; Zohaib’s wife, Tayyaba Khan, one foot injured, another detached, leading to amputation below the knee; friend Amjad Saleh, a D4 classmate, lacerations and bruising.

The injured patients’ long road to recovery started at a hospital where staff demanded their passports, which his dad was able to bring. After getting patched up, they made the three-hour flight to Dubai before catching a 14-hour flight to Dallas, which proved excruciating for Shahid. With instructions to keep his legs elevated, he did his best by laying across open seats, legs dangling into the aisle. …only to be bumped by the beverage cart and passengers headed to the bathroom.

“I’d open my eyes every 20 to 30 minutes because I was worried that someone would hit me. I stayed up during that whole flight. It was terrible,” he says.

Once home in Mount Pleasant, Texas, Shahid underwent ankle surgery, which sidelined him for six weeks. With doctor’s orders to elevate and rest, Shahid had to request special accommodations to take his Part 2 Board Exams. He also missed three weeks of class.

The forced downtime, however, had its perks. Always looking for positivity, Shahid made the most of it. While his mom doted on him, an endless stream of family and friends, including those from dental school, came by to visit, play Monopoly and bring care packages.

“It was probably one of the most fun six weeks of my life,” he says.

His sunny disposition is anything but surprising to dental school friends.

“He always searches for light in the darkness,” says D4 Twain Henry II.

Shahid slowly eased back into school once on crutches. Luckily, he had already finished most of his in-school procedures, and everyone did their best to provide opportunities for him to catch up. For months now, he’s kept physical therapy appointments. Despite lingering trauma – including an aversion to flight turbulence and noisy storms – Shahid focuses on his silver lining.

“Looking at the bright side, my hands could have gotten hit. If my hands were injured, my dental career would be done, and there goes all my schooling to waste,” he says.

Thankfully, life goes on, with dentistry in his future as planned. After a post-graduation trip to DisneyWorld (with no plans for mountain treks any time soon), he plans to open a practice in his hometown in northeast Texas.

— Kathleen Green Pothier