A six-year-old girl was left needing 80 stitches and five nasal surgeries to reconstruct her face after she was mauled by a family dog.
Alexis Johnson was attacked by pitbull, JoJo, at the home of her stepfather’s mother in North Carolina while her mom Ashley Johnson was at work.
She was playing with the pet and went to hug the six-year-old dog when he bit her in the face last October.
Stepdad Nick pulled the dog off Alexis and she was rushed to hospital where Ashley fell to her knees in the hospital car park at the sight of her daughters’ mangled face.
The youngster had over 80 stitches in her nose, upper lip and the roof of her mouth.
Since the initial surgery, Alexis then returned to hospital in November to have a nasal operation to reopen her airways which were closing up.
This surgery didn’t work so was tried again in December, but as the airways were still narrowing after the second attempt, Alexis was referred to Ear Nose and Throat specialists in Chapel Hill to undergo three more surgeries in February, March and April.
The most recent surgery in April has proved successful so far. Her only worry being that she would lose her smile and was afraid of people seeing her scarred face.
But as Alexis’ scars heal, the little girl, now aged seven, has rediscovered her confidence.
The pitbull was put down, but the incident hasn’t affected Alexis’ love for dogs as she had to plead with her mum not to get rid of their family dogs as she knew they wouldn’t hurt her.
Ashley said Alexis always played with JoJo and there were no signs he would suddenly attack.
The 29-year-old added: ‘I was in a state of shock and completely heartbroken. All I did as soon as I saw her was fall down and cry. One of the doctors caught me while her stepdad got her out of the car.
‘I was terrified for Alexis because it was so bad, and I didn’t know if she would make it as she had lost so much blood. She threw up blood for two days because she had swallowed a lot of it.
‘I still cry at night when I think about it. I’m just grateful that my daughter is still alive. Whether she returns to looking like her normal self or not, my child is alive, breathing and doing fantastically. I could have easily lost my whole world that day, but I didn’t, she pulled through like the trooper she is.
‘She had over 80 stitches all together, on her face, in her nose as the bite destroyed her nasal airways, the upper lip at the gum line in her mouth and the roof of her mouth as well. After about three months, when the stitches were taken out, it got easier.’
The mother added Alexis is not scared of dogs despite the attack and the family have two pit bulls as well.
Ashley said: ‘Alexis would always play with him and he would even sleep with her. From what I was told, she went to give him a hug, as she always did, except this time he bit her.
‘Her stepdad pulled the dog off her and then called me, and we met at the hospital. They called in a plastic surgeon to put her face back together which took two and a half hours in total. She was admitted for two nights before they let us go home.
‘The dog was put down, but Alexis isn’t afraid of dogs because of the accident. We have two pit bulls ourselves and I was going to get rid of them as soon as we got home, but Alexis cried and begged me not to.
‘She said she knows our dogs would never harm her. She’s not scared of other people’s dogs either, but I told her she isn’t to go near them unless I’m there. I’m more scared of her being around strangers’ dogs than she is.’
Alexis’ scars have improved since the surgeries and she is no longer afraid of letting people see her.
She will need another operation on her nose when she is 16 or 17 years of age, once doctors believe that her nose is finished growing.
Ashley hopes to warn other parents to be cautious allowing their children near dogs, even if it’s a beloved family pet as you can never be certain how they will respond.
‘Right after the accident, Alexis was scared to let anyone see her because her scarring was severe. But now, since she’s started to heal and her smile is coming back, she has her self-esteem and her confidence back. She still calls herself beautiful,’ said Ashley.
‘She will have to have a rhinoplasty, a nose job, when she’s around 16 or 17. The plastic surgeon wants to give her nose time to finish growing first though, and they’re also talking about possibly doing some scar revision too.
‘I tell her that her scars make her who she is, and they show that she’s a survivor. I also let her know that with time the scars will fade, and she’s starting to see that for herself because her scars are looking better every day.
‘I still love dogs and I don’t want to ever see them being mistreated or hurt. Although, I am more skeptical when Alexis’ friends come over now and I make sure my dogs are kept aside.
‘I worry about her being around other dogs that I don’t know because anything can happen at any point, for any reason.
‘Even if you know the dog, please always be careful around them when kids are involved because anything can happen. You never know what that dog might be thinking or going through at the time. I never thought this would happen to my sweet girl, but it did.’