My dog ate my face... but saved my life

Wendy Hamriding
Wendy Hamriding
Have your say

Wendy Hamriding’s life changed dramatically after she suffered horrendous injuries and lost an eye when her dog ate half her face while she lay unconscious. However, after two years of intensive treatment and a miraculous operation, Wendy can now see again. She tells AASMA DAY her amazing story.

Talk to most people who have been bitten or attacked by a dog, and they understandably say they are now wary of the animals, or that their injury has stemmed a deep-rooted fear or dislike of them.

Wendy Hamriding with consultant Mark Vose

Wendy Hamriding with consultant Mark Vose

However, Wendy Hamriding bears no resentment or ill feeling towards the pet dog which disfigured her face and cost the grandmother her sight.

Perversely, Wendy’s voice actually gathers affection when she talks about her dog Cassie, and her only regret is that her pet had to be put down after tasting blood in the life-changing ordeal.

Wendy, 53, who has two sons and two grandchildren says simply: “Cassie saved my life.

“Before this happened, I was weeks away from dying as a result of drink, and if it hadn’t happened, I would now be a bag of bones.

Wendy Hamriding

Wendy Hamriding

“I lost my eye and I lost my dog, but it was the best thing that could have happened.

“I would rather be blind for life than dead.”

Wendy, from Ribbleton, Preston, admits she had become an alcoholic, and her every waking moment was consumed with how to get her hands on alcohol.

Wendy recalls: “I had a drink problem for years, but used to be more of a binge drinker.

Wendy Hamriding with Staff Nurse Lauren Burgess

Wendy Hamriding with Staff Nurse Lauren Burgess

“However, it got out of control and for the six months before the accident, I was drinking all the time.

“I was drunk from the moment I woke up and would stay drunk all day. I would even wake up during the night to have a drink.

“I was dying. I knew alcohol was killing me, but I could not stop drinking.”

The fateful day happened in December 2011, and Wendy had been drinking. It is unclear exactly what happened, but after going to the bathroom, Wendy either tripped on a rip in the stairs carpet or blacked out as a result of excessive drinking, and tumbled down the stairs, knocking herself out.

She didn’t regain consciousness until several hours later at around 11am and as soon as Wendy awoke, she knew something serious had happened.

Stumbling to a mirror, Wendy discovered that while she had been unconscious, her pet dog Cassie had eaten the top half of her face while trying to wake her up, and as she hazily looked at her reflection, she realised one of her eyes was missing.

Despite the horrifying sight that greeted her, Wendy says that her only emotion was sheer relief.

She remembers: “My first thought was: ‘Thank goodness for that. Now I can’t go to the shop again to get more drink.

“One of my eyes was gone and all I could see was a hole.

“But even then, it did not bother me. I was just glad I was not going to die as a result of the drink.

“Even though I could see the appalling damage my dog had done to my face, I knew she had inadvertently saved my life.”

In defence of her dog, a little mongrel who she had owned for 10 years, Wendy says: “Cassie did not do it as something vicious.

“She was just trying to wake me up and had been nibbling at my face, but had gone too far.

“Sadly, she had to be put down because she had tasted blood. I had to spend months in hospital, so would not have been able to look after her anyway.”

Wendy, who has two sons, aged 33 and 19, says that while everything that happened on that day seems like a blur, she remembers an innate calmness washed over her and she felt totally in control.

She recalls: “There was blood all over the walls, carpet and settee.

“I could just about see out of the eye that was left, so I cleaned myself up the best I could and sat on the settee with a towel around me.

“My youngest son had been asleep in bed when everything happened, and when he woke up, he found me and was totally shocked and called an ambulance.

“However, I just sat there calmly and said: ‘Get me to hospital’. I wasn’t panicked or frightened, as I believed it had all happened for a reason.”

Wendy was taken to the Royal Preston Hospital, where plastic surgeons battled to re-build her face. Surgeons took flesh from Wendy’s stomach and a skin graft from her leg and began rebuilding her face.

Although Wendy could initially see out of her eye straight after her injuries, following the grafts she was blind, and remained that way for almost two years.

She explains: “The problem was that the skin they had used was too coarse and was damaging the sight I had left.

“The consultant, Mark Vose, introduced himself to me soon after the injuries, and he has looked after me for the last two years, and has done countless operations to try and save the sight in my remaining eye.

“He has been wonderful and has been there for me 24/7 as I have had one infection after another.”

Mr Vose told Wendy about a specialist based in Brighton called Professor Christopher Liu, who made false corneas and that he may be able to use a procedure known as ‘tooth-in-eye surgery’ to make Wendy see again, and Wendy readily agreed to give it a try.

The procedure, which is called Osteo-Odonto Keratoprothesis (OOKP), is a complex two-stage operation which aims to restore vision in patients for whom all previous attempts to restore vision has failed.

It involves removing a canine tooth from the patient, shaping and drilling it to allow inplantation of an artificial corneal device (optical cylinder) and ultimately implanting it back into one eye a few months later.

Wendy laughs: “When they first told me that my tooth was going to be put into my eye to make me see, it sounded like something from of a film.

“But I trusted Mr Vose and his team and was willing to give it a try.

“The procedure took place in stages over several months, and I went to Brighton in November to have the operation done.

“Basically, it involved taking my tooth and part of my jaw and then grinding the tooth down to a disc, like a polo and then the tooth was harvested in my cheek and then a few months later, I went back to have it transferred to my eye.

“It sounds so surreal, but it really does work.”

Wendy, who has grandchildren Lily, 11 and Josh, 10, is overcome with emotion as she recalls the miraculous moment when she was able to see again.

With a trembling voice, she explains: “I can see my sons again, and I have been able to see my grandchildren’s faces for the first time in two years. It was so emotional.

“Being able to see again after being blind is so amazing.

“Words cannot describe how wonderful it is. They should invent a special word to describe what it is like to suddenly see again after being blind, as there are no words in the English language that can do it justice.

“I come into hospital to have my eye cleaned and when it is, I can see. It is not as other people can see, but after being blind for two years, for me it is unbelievable.

“The best thing is being able to see my sons and grandchildren and I know my sight will only get better.

“I want to thank everyone at Royal Preston Hospital for the way they have cared for me.

“Since the accident, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol. I know some people will be surprised and shocked to hear me say this, but I am glad this happened to me and that my dog ate half my face, as at least it stopped me drinking.

“I would like to start working with people who have alcohol and drugs problems and addictions, as I want to help others.

“I am so lucky to have had my life saved when I was so close to dying as a result of alcohol, and I am even luckier to have got my sight back.

“However, even if I hadn’t got any vision back, I would sooner be blind than drunk.

“Even if you are blind, never give up hope of being able to see again.”