Having the chance to meet and thank the emergency first responders who came to her home last Nov. 16, Dora Pennington said, is a miracle.
When they found her just outside her rural east Independence home near the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, it had been more than two hours since the family dog suddenly attacked and mauled her, leaving her naked and bleeding profusely.
Standing on half an artificial leg with the aid of a cane, Pennington was among three former trauma patients at Centerpoint Medical Center who thanked their life-saving first responders during Centerpoint's Great Save event Wednesday.
Pennington was joined by 21-year-old Brandon Henderson from Independence and 38-year-old Gale Graham from Kingsville. Both survived severe auto crashes.
Henderson was riding his motor scooter home from work at Burger King on a November morning when he was rear-ended in front of Centerpoint's main entrance. He flipped back over the car, and his scooter went underneath and started a car fire. Independence Police officers Michelle Sumstad and Mike Spano were on duty at Centerpoint and immediately ran out and pulled Henderson and the vehicle’s driver away from the fire.
Henderson suffered significant brain trauma, among a number of injuries, had to relearn walking and other everyday tasks and continues with rehabilitation with the goal of returning to work.
Graham, 38, was on a highway near Lone Jack around midnight last Aug. 7 when a semi-truck failed to yield at a stop sign and hit him directly. He suffered brain bleeding, multiple fractures in his spine, ribs and right leg, lung contusions and a partially collapsed lung. His rehabilitation included time at a specialized traumatic brain injury rehab hospital in Nebraska. He now has returned to work and a normal life.
Pennington fielded several interviews, acknowledging her unique story even as an emergency rescue.
There was “something special about my situation that reached out to people, and my life has forever been changed,” said the 54-year-old, who was joined by her husband, daughter and grandchildren. “How do you thank somebody that saved your life? You're forever indebted in so many senses.”
Pennington was alone when she started to leave her house that cold November morning. Her dog, a 3-year-old American bulldog named Moses that weighed about 110 pounds, suddenly attacked her from behind and dragged her to the ground. Several times she tried to pull herself away into an area protected by an underground fence and near her cell phone, but the dog kept pulling her back.
Pennington said Moses (the dog's given name from its previous owner) was a “very handsome, big dog,” friendly most times and rambunctious but not wild. She and her husband had him less than a year.
Having talked to several dog attack victims, she said what caused hers to snap and attack is a “million-dollar question.”
“I never dreamed or knew that he would do what he did,” she said. “There's no way to know.”
The dog ripped off Pennington's clothes, some of her hair, nearly tore her left foot and ankle off and left bite wounds all over her body. After the attack stopped, she was able to roll herself about 200 feet to her porch steps and call 911. She remembers Moses even trying to lick her wounds after the attack ended.
Sheriff deputies Ryan Painter and Kevin Souder were the first to arrive, and they had to shoot Moses when he threatened them at the fence. They couldn't see Pennington initially, then noticed her lying near the porch
“We saw something on the stairs, but she was so pale she almost blended in,” Painter said.
As SWAT members, Painter and Souder had a tourniquet on hand, and quick application ultimately saved Pennington's life given her extensive blood loss. With the cool, wet air and her clothes ripped off, Pennington also suffered from hypothermia. The deputies got blankets from the house to wrap her up, and Souder kept her awake and talking until paramedics arrived.
“It felt like an eternity, but they had a good response time,” Souder said. “She's a strong woman – that will to survive.”
“I thought I was going to die,” Pennington recalled thinking right after the attack. It was about 9 a.m. when she started to leave the house and past 11 when she dialed her phone. “I remember looking at the sky and asking God, 'Is this my day to die?' I didn't really see the blood, but I just knew I would bleed out.”
During her ambulance ride Pennington received IV fluids and pain medicine, and upon arrival at Centerpoint she received rapid IV and blood transfusions before an emergency surgery to repair exposed blood vessels, wash out open wounds and amputate her left foot. Painter said he remembered thinking the right foot was beyond salvage, but doctors managed to save that. She required several more surgeries, some of them after she was discharged Dec. 5 to long-term rehab, including skin grafts.
Pennington said she's grateful the first responders take their jobs so seriously, to have given her a fighting chance, and lauded the care she received from Dr. Jared Smith, who performed the initial surgery, and numerous other doctors and nurses.
“I felt like the people gave a damn about me,” she said.
Pennington said she doesn't fear dogs even now and doesn't want people to feel sorry for her, as adjusting to a different leg is a far cry from not surviving.
“Tragedy happens to a lot of people,” she said. “I want to move forward and be productive in my life.
“Cherish life and look at life as a miracle.”