QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistan national soccer player who died in a migrant shipwreck off Italy’s southern coast had set out on a trip to find medical care for her disabled 3-year-old son, her sister and a friend said Saturday. In hospitals, she was told that help abroad may be her only option.
Shahida Raza, who also played for Pakistan’s national field hockey team and was originally from Quetta in the southwestern province of Balochistan, was one of at least 67 people who died in the shipwreck. The overcrowded wooden boat they were traveling in crashed in the rough waters of the Ionian Sea off Calabria before dawn last Sunday.
The boat, which sailed from the Turkish port of Izmir, was carrying people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and other countries who were looking for a better quality of life in Europe. According to the survivors, there were 170 or more passengers on the ship before the tragedy.
Raza’s sister, Sadia, said Shahida’s attempts to emigrate had one motive: “She just wanted her three-year-old disabled son to move, laugh and cry like other children,” Sadia told The Associated Press. “Shahida’s only dream was to treat a disabled child. She risked her own life after being told by hospitals in Pakistan that medical care abroad may be the only option.’
The boy, Hassan, was not on the boat and remained in Pakistan. As a child, he suffered brain damage and was paralyzed on one side of his body from head to toe. It was unclear how Shahida was going to help him by going abroad and leaving him.
“She was a brave woman, strong like a man,” Sadia said. “My sister was treating my son at the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi. She was told that if they take him abroad, maybe there will be good treatment there.”
Aga Khan authorities could not comment on Shahida’s case. Sadia said Shahida also approached the Joint Military Hospital Quetta, which also said there was nothing they could do for her son.
“What a mother does for her children, no one else can do. Shahida always wanted to decide everything on her own,” she said. We are proud of our sister.”
Shahida was honored by Pakistanis across the country and in her village.
Pictures of her wearing the country’s national colors and sporting awards appeared on TV screens and social media, although it was reported that most people only learned about her after her death, as women’s sports in Pakistan are not widely broadcast. Local media also quoted her family as saying that she had previously spoken about the lack of recognition and recognition for her achievements.
Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi said on Friday that Raza’s tragedy “deeply touched” him as the country failed to provide her son with medical facilities.
Speaking at an international conference on cerebral palsy, the president said that professional training of health professionals and an inclusive approach of society are vital to the accommodation of people with disabilities.
Shahida’s friend, Soumia Mushtaq, said the 29-year-old sportswoman often expressed concern about her child’s health.
“Not being able to recover from the disease in local hospitals forced her to find a better future for her son abroad,” she said.
Her family in Pakistan was still awaiting the repatriation of her body on Saturday.
Associated Press writer Adil Jawad contributed to this report from Karachi, Pakistan.