MIDDLEBURG — Crystal Sims says her son has added a few pounds over the last six months.
“He’s getting chunky because he’s gotten lazy,” Sims says of her 10-year-old boy. “Before he was outside all the time. Now he spends all of his time in the house. He’s scared of everything.”
Garrett Carrier comes by his newfound timidity and lay-about ways naturally, with good reason. In July he was mauled by a neighbor’s pit bull. The attack was so vicious that Garrett’s left arm was nearly ripped from his body, left hanging only by the bone and a thin strand of muscle. More than 100 stitches were needed to reattach it.
The dog, Titan, is dead and his owners have moved away. The pain has mostly subsided, except for a tender area where his armpit used to be. The tangle of scars and stitchwork tattooed along Garrett’s left shoulder appear to be healing nicely. He’s making steady progress through physical therapy to slowly regain the use of his arm. He’s back in school.
“He’s doing great, he really is,” Sims says. “But I still worry about him a lot. I worry about his emotions. His dad was attacked by a dog when he was 15 or 16, and he’s still not over his fear of dogs. Garrett’s scared of a lot of things now, not just dogs. Loud noises. The dark. A lot of things.”
On Friday, Garrett, who lives just outside Middleburg near the Casey-Lincoln County line, is scheduled for major reconstructive surgery at Shriner’s Hospital in Cincinnati.
“They’re going to take muscle from his back and build him a new armpit, and they’re hoping there’s enough left over to build him a new deltoid, too,” his mother explains. “They’re also going to take some nerves from his ankle to put in his arm, and give him Botox injections to firm up the muscle.”
If all those procedures sound complicated and scary, Garrett says he’s not worried about it. In fact, he’s kind of looking forward to an extended break from school.
“The bad part about it is I have to start all over again on my therapy with my new arm,” he says.
After a failed first attempt at physical therapy, Garrett now eagerly attends his three-times-a-week sessions at McDowell Wellness Center. He was disappointed that Friday’s session, which includes aqua therapy in the center’s pool, was canceled by the icy weather.
Through therapy, Garrett has regained the ability to curl his left arm upward, but he can’t unbend it. Similarly, he can clench his left hand into a fist, but is unable to unclinch it. He wears custom-made devices that help him deal with that inflexibility.
When he started therapy, simple tasks like rearranging objects on a table top proved difficult. “He’d get so aggravated,” Sims said. But he’s improved steadily while working physical therapist April Jasper, who provides Garrett with a little extra motivation.
“I kinda fell in love with my therapist,”¿he explains.
If Garrett’s upcoming surgery is successful, doctors believe the range of motion of his left arm will increase dramatically, though he’ll probably never be able to raise it above his shoulder. And it is hoped, with continued therapy, that he will regain 100 percent of the function of his left hand, Sims said.
While those outcomes would be something to cheer about, the damage done by the dog bites will never be repaired enough to allow him to resume playing baseball, basketball, football and other activities that used to be his favorite things. It’s something he’s learning to accept.
“I can’t participate in PE, but I can still do art and music and go to the library,” Garrett says.
Even though he is right-handed, Garrett says his injuries have made schoolwork more difficult. He sometimes has trouble holding paper steady with his left hand, which has effected the legibility of his handwriting, which in turn has led to some right answers being marked wrong, he insists, explaining why his grades have fallen off since the attack.
His classmates don’t give him any special treatment and the scary story behind his scars do not give him any special status in the fifth grade, he says.
“My friends treat me like they always did. They still punch me and stuff,” he says.
Even though things are getting back to normal in many respects, Sims said she knows her son still has a lot to overcome beyond the reconstruction of his arm and the lengthy therapy process required to learn how to use it again. She is concerned the mental scars left by the attack might prove just as challenging to heal.
“I took him trick-or-treating and he would even get out of the car at any house where there was a dog, even if it was just a little ankle biter,” she recalls.
It seemed like a good idea when Garrett asked for a puppy for his birthday after he returned from the hospital, but so far, the relationship between the boy and his dog hasn’t been all warm and fuzzy, The pup, a black German Shepard named Isabelle, is so hyperactive and affectionate, Garrett has not been able to get comfortable in her presence.
“He’s tried but she is just so frisky and she scares him,” Sims says.
After Garrett recovers from his surgery, Sims said she plans to take Garrett and Isabelle to a dog trainer, so the two can bond. She hopes it will not only make Izzy a better pet, but allow her son to trust and enjoy dogs again.
“I hope it will be good therapy for him,” she says. “It’s just one of the things we’re going to have to work on.”