Seven-year-old Blair Partain is a fist-full of energy. Whether she’s bouncing on the trampoline, trying on costume jewelry or playing with her Barbie dolls, her mom says she’s a bona fide princess.
Quite an improvement from three years ago, when the Partain family thought they might lose Blair altogether. She was the victim of a sudden and violent attack. The culprit was the family dog.
"I just remember hearing my son burst into the house screaming, ‘Segar’s got Blair!’" says Theresa Partain. The Rottweiler was restrained on a heavy chain, but managed to lunge forward and grab the four-year-old as she ran past him.
Theresa remembers rushing to the doorway to find the dog "slinging Blair like a rag doll."
By the time Blair’s father, Randy, rushed outside, the dog was crushing the child’s chest with his paw, and had her head in his mouth.
As Randy pried Blair from the dog’s clutches, he called to her. "I just wanted to hear her voice," he recalls, "to see if she was OK."
The remarkably courageous 4-year-old replied, "Yes Dad, I’m OK."
The Partains rushed little Blair about ten miles from their rural home – a southern Illinois town called Carrier Mills – to the Harrisburg Medical Center. Blair had a badly torn scalp and puncture wounds to her neck.
After her initial evaluation, an emergency helicopter was called to transfer Blair to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Within hours of the attack, Alex Kane, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, had begun the lengthy procedure that would reattach Blair’s very severely injured scalp and repair her torn neck muscles.
The family experienced several setbacks in those first months following the attack. Blair stumbled and fell on three occasions, causing hematomas – bruises to the tender tissue in her forehead. To prevent further injury, Dr. Kane prescribed a helmet, which Blair’s mom decorated with pink paint and Blair’s name.
Blair also suffered ear canal injury related to the trauma and was treated by St. Louis Children’s Hospital ear, nose, and throat specialist David Molter, MD. Fortunately, Blair did not suffer any permanent hearing loss.
The Rottweiler was destroyed after the attack. And understandably, Blair developed a fear of dogs. But Theresa followed some professional advice and got a new puppy, a female cocker spaniel. Otherwise, she feared Blair would remain traumatized unless she learned to cope.
Blair has definitely learned to cope. She and the puppy are good pals now. And it appears Blair’s recovery is complete. She recently had her final surgery to close an open spot in her skull – a surgery which, according to Matthew Smyth, MD, pediatric neurosurgeon at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, carried some neurologic risk because of an important cerebral artery just under the defect. But Dr. Smyth and Theresa both agree: Blair came through with flying colors.
She’ll need periodic CAT scans to confirm her skull continues to heal.
Blair is not one to let this terrifying ordeal slow her down. Ironically, one of her most dominant traits is that she’s headstrong.
"She did a complete turnaround. She’s a pistol. If you could meet her you’d know exactly what I’m talking about," says Theresa, "She’s very active and I wouldn’t trade her for the world."
And you’d never know about her ordeal by glancing at her.
Her mom says she loves gym class and she loves being active, but she’s also conscientious about protecting her head. "Blair knows what she can and can’t do while her head heals. She’s very cautious with that side of her head."
The Partain family is thankful every day for their daughter’s dramatic recovery, and for the care she received at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
"Finally, after almost three years I have stopped crying every day," Theresa says. "God was with Blair three years ago, but it was also Dr. Kane in there. He will always be in our prayers and in our hearts."
And now, three years later, Blair is living a normal, active and exciting life.
"She’s a heartbreaker," says Theresa. "That’s for sure."