Here, Ashley, 45, tells the story in her own words.
T￼urning up the music, I danced around the lounge room while my little sister sang into her hair straightener.‘I wish I sounded like you!’ Sophie-Lee, 14, said. My voice always shocked people. I’m only 146cms tall, but at karaoke I chose the big numbers by Celine, Whitney and Mariah. Seeing the surprise on everyone’s faces when I hit all the big the notes was my favourite part!
That evening, I walked Sophie-Lee home before making my way back to my place. I was only a few minutes away when I turned a corner and saw a lady who was looking after a Great Dane Staffordshire bull terrier cross. It wasn’t on a leash and suddenly bolted towards me. Frozen to the spot, I sucked in my breath. I know what’s coming, I panicked.
The dog launched at me and latched onto the bottom half of my face. Shaking me like a ragdoll, it dragged me to the ground. Adrenaline surged through me and somehow I found the strength to prise it’s jaws apart. As I did, I heard a sickening rip. When the lady pulled the dog back by its collar, my hand automatically went to my face. My chin’s hanging off! I realised in horror.
‘Help me!’ I slurred. ‘Call an ambulance!’ As blood poured from the wound, soaking my clothes and hair, I lay on my back feeling weak. Another lady who’d come running over, held my hand. ‘It’s okay, you’re going to be okay,’ she soothed. But my face has been ripped in two! I thought.
At the Royal Adelaide Hospital, I was taken straight into theatre where I was stitched up. The dog’s teeth had ruptured my jugular vein and I’d almost bled out. ‘It’s a miracle you’re alive,’ I was told. The next morning, I had another operation where surgeons took a tendon, skin and muscle from my right arm to make me a new chin. I didn’t dare look at it afterwards. But a couple of days later, I caught a glimpse of my face in a teaspoon.It’s not a true reflection, I thought. It’s so distorted, like a funhouse mirror.
Soon after, I was washing my hands in the bathroom, when I looked up and accidentally saw myself. Immediately bursting into tears, I realised my face was that distorted. Nothing could’ve prepared me for my huge, swollen chin or 200 stitches.I only had one tooth left and no bottom lip.I’m so different, I sobbed. I don’t even look like me.
When Sophie-Lee and my brother David, 17, visited, their shock was clear. ‘You look like an extra from a horror film,’ David gasped, distraught. ‘I’ll take that on the chin!’ I joked, trying to show them I hadn’t lost my sense of humour. ‘I know it’s scary,’ I added. ‘But I’m still me.’
Our dad passed away when they were young, so it was important they knew I was okay. But when I was discharged after two weeks, it was hard to stay upbeat. What kind of a future am I going to have now? I wondered. I’m hideous. I’ll never have a partner. Then the wound got infected and I ended up back in hospital.
‘Remember you’re beautiful on the inside and out,’ the nurses told me. I just couldn’t see it though. While I was there, I got chatting to another patient about singing. ‘Let’s hear you!’ she said. I was so nervous, I didn’t know if I could still sing. But with a few other people’s encouragement, I began a rendition of Celine Dion’s ‘Think Twice’. When their mouths dropped open just like they used to at the karaoke, my confidence soared. Then a crowd gathered on the ward, applauding! I can’t let the attack define me, I realised. I’ll get back on the stage.
After 10 days I was discharged again. Two months on, I’m still coming to terms with what happened. I have nightmares about dogs running towards me and I’m facing lots more surgeries, including some to build me a new lip. I’ll need dentures too. Despite all this, I’ve forgiven the lady looking after the dog in order to move on. The dog was put down and, although it was dangerous, I’m sad an animal had to die. Every day I walk past the spot where it happened and it’s a reminder I’m still here. How can I be angry when I’m alive? I think.
I’m so incredibly grateful to all the staff at the hospital for their kindness and compassion, and their skill in rebuilding my face. I just hope no-one else has to go through what I did. All it takes is a muzzle and a lead and it could save a life. Although the dog almost killed me, I won’t let it kill my spirit.
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