The mood was joyful on April 1, 2018 when Erika and her husband Steve gathered with family at his grandmother’s Buffalo, New York home for their son Maverick’s first Easter. Steve’s grandmother sat in the floor with the eight-month old on her lap and her pet Labrador retriever mix by her side. Without warning, the usually docile dog gave a brief growl and bit Maverick in the face, tearing a gaping hole across his lip and cheek.
Erika rushed Maverick to the nearest community hospital where she expected him to be stabilized and then dispatched to the local pediatric hospital. Instead, the emergency room doctor told her, “You need more help than [the local children’s hospital] can give you. We’re sending you to Cincinnati.” Hospital staff immediately arranged for a mercy flight to bring the two of them to Shriners Hospitals for Children–Cincinnati; Steve would follow by car. “I didn’t even know which part of Ohio Cincinnati is in,” she said about the whirlwind trip. “I was in shock; my dad gave me his shirt to wear because I was covered in blood.”
Erika and Maverick arrived at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital late that night, and by 1:00 a.m., Ann R. Schwentker, M.D. arrived to do the first of two surgeries on Maverick. Initially, Dr. Schwentker stitched the corner of his lip. “I wasn’t sure Mav would ever be able to drink a bottle again, but by the next evening, he was sucking like nothing happened,” Erika marveled. The second surgery a day later closed his cheek wound using a flap of skin from his neck area. “They said we were lucky he had those chubby neck folds; they kept him from needing a graft from a different part of his body,” she said. “When we got home, my friend who is a nurse marveled at how tiny his stitches were.”
Within six days of the incident, Erika and Steve were ready to return home to Buffalo with their little boy, happy and seemingly unaware of his recent adventure. Erika said she almost did not want to leave Cincinnati Shriners Hospital. “Everyone there took worries off my shoulders. They thought of everything; sometimes things I didn’t even think of, like a toothbrush and cream for Mav’s diaper rash.” (Children often develop diaper rash after taking antibiotics.) At one point during the stay, the nurses even took Maverick out of their room so Erika could get a much-needed nap. “I didn’t even cry for the first four days,” she recalled. “After I knew he was going to be OK, I let go.”
Once at home, Erika reflected on her experience at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital. “Hospitals are never comfortable,” she said. “At Shriners, I felt safe; it felt like home.”