INDIANAPOLIS — While little Arial Harrison was in surgery at Riley Hospital for Children Tuesday morning, her distraught parents nervously waited, her father recalling the events of Sunday evening that left his youngest daughter fighting for her life.
“I want to tell the story,” Donald Harrison said, to set the record straight.
He said he wants people to know, too, how terribly his daughter was hurt.
One minute his son, Anthony, was jumping playfully with his baby sister, on a trampoline in their grandmother’s backyard on Crooked Creek Road in Cassopolis while their grandmother Jennifer Hansford looked on.
The next minute, the family’s world was turned upside down when a neighbor’s pit bull ran into the yard and jumped onto the trampoline with the children.
The dog bit Anthony, 7, who jumped from the trampoline and ran toward the house. The dog pursued the boy, continuing its attack until Hansford reached them and managed to free the boy, Harrison said.
But while the grandmother ushered Anthony into the house to safety, the dog turned its attack on Arial, 2, who had scrambled down from the trampoline.
Harrison said Hansford ran back and did what she could to protect the child, lying on her as a shield, and suffering several bites as she tried to fend off the dog’s attack.
But the damage Ariel sustained was massive, Harrison said.
He choked back tears as he told of the bites the child suffered on her arms, her legs, her hands and her neck, and how the dog narrowly missed Arial’s jugular vein.
Most damaged, though, were the child’s head and face.
Ariel’s ears are gone. So is her scalp.
“She’ll never have hair again,” he said the doctors told him.
Tuesday’s surgery with four teams of doctors in Indianapolis included work to put tubes in Arial’s tear ducts and to try to repair her eyelids and the muscles in her torn cheeks so she will be able to blink.
“Their main concerns, though, are keeping her alive,” Harrison said from the hospital Tuesday, April 11.
“Right now, she has about 64 different doctors,” he said — plastic surgeons, eye doctors, all kinds.
Arial doesn’t have an infection in her lungs yet but her parents have been told that it’s possible she will develop one. She will likely be hospitalized for several months and undergo several surgeries, Harrison said.
The ordeal has been overwhelming, and Harrison is angry that it happened.
The dog that attacked Arial has often been seen running loose, and the children’s great grandfather, Paul Canen, and neighbors have complained, to no avail, according to Harrison.
The dog’s 20-year-old owner, who lives three doors down from the grandparents, has left apologetic messages on Harrison’s phone since the incident.
But Harrison was disturbed to read some news accounts that the man may be denying or minimizing his ownership of the animal.
Also, he said, “sorry doesn’t change my daughter’s face, no one will be able to change that,” the result of the man’s “lack of responsibility,” he said.
Still, his focus, now is on his daughter’s own fighting spirit.
It took her father’s words to calm her in the first hospital emergency room in South Bend, he said, when she was frantically fighting the doctors.
“Nein,” he told her, the German word for “no.” It’s the word he uses at home to correct his own dog, and one the children have picked up themselves.
“I put my hand on her and said: “Nein, baby, you’ve got let them work on you.”
She settled down.
Anthony and his grandmother were released from the hospital after treatment for their injuries.
Arial’s medical costs are covered by Medicaid, and her parents are staying nights at the Ronald McDonald House.
Anthony and two other sisters, Aiyana Harrison, 6, and Autumn Jo Harrison, 3, are with relatives.
Although he is on a new job, Harrison said, his employer has told him to do what he must do for his family. For now, both parents, who share custody of their children, plan to stay with Arial as long as recovery takes.
A close friend has set up an online fundraiser to help with the other expenses of travel, meals and the loss of income while both parents are time away from work.
Harrison said he is grateful for the help, and hopeful for his daughter.
He is also hopeful people who hear her story will take more responsibility for their dogs, and not try to blame the attack on the pit bull breed.
“I have a blue nose full blooded pit bull at home that would never show its teeth to my children,” Harrison said.
Go here to visit the GoFundMe “Help for Arial”