Dubai: Two years after a South African Mastiff guard dog nearly tore off her arm with its powerful jaws, a Dubai-based American expat has partially regained use of her right limb following extensive surgeries that staved off amputation.
Leslie Putnam Orr, 57, told Gulf News that she was grateful for five life-saving surgeries conducted by Dr Christiane Savvidou, hand-surgeon specialist at Medcare Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital.
Orr landed on Savvidou’s operating table after she was transported by medivac from Nigeria following 11 surgeries in that country to repair the bone-crushing damage from the Mastiff mauling in October 2014.
Orr was ambushed by the powerful guard dog which crushed the bones in her right forearm at a colleague’s home.
Recalling the nightmare on Tuesday, Orr said: “I was living in Dubai for seven years when I got this offer from a big UK based real estate firm to head their Nigeria operations as the Chief Operating Officer (COO). As I arrived in Lagos, I realised I had to set up everything from scratch, including shopping for the office furniture so was asked to function out of the home of the CEO. She had huge mastiffs guarding the property that were caged during the day.”
Orr said that as she “stepped out of the office vehicle to go upstairs to get ready for a high-level meeting, the mastiff appeared out of nowhere and towered over me, catching hold of my right forearm in his jaw. It was so terrifying that all I can remember is the glint of his eyes and his jaws and the sound of my bones crunching as in all that madness I realised I could not pull away as that would mean having my arm severed so firm was his grip”.
In the moments after the initial attack, the owner of the dog manually forced the jaws of her dog open but by then the forearm had been badly mauled, all tendons torn, the two bones crushed and Orr had to be rushed to the hospital.
Orr recalls that for the next three months she was in and out of Intensive Care Units, change hospitals and go under anaesthesia to just clean the wound that involved cutting out of dead skin and bone and that meant her wound could not be closed.
“Infection had set in, my hand stank and I refused to look at my hand. I only went along with nearly 11 surgeries that involved skin grafts from the upper arm, cleaning, bone cutting. I was in a new country, with no understanding of the medical system, no friends,” said Orr.
After a year of surgeries when one plastic surgeon advised her to get out as she was on the amputee list, Orr decided to search for a surgeon from her hospital bed and found Dr Savvidou through friends in Dubai.
Orr was medically evacuated from her hospital bed in Nigeria and on the plane to Dubai finally in December 2014 and an ambulance from Medcare, waiting at Dubai International Airport, whisked her straight into the care of Dr Savvidou.
Orr’s decision likely saved her arm, the doctor told Gulf News.
“Had Orr not decided to come, her active right forearm in all probability would have been amputated. She came to me in December 2015 with acute osteomyelitis. She had severe loss of bone, muscles, tendon. Her wound was a gaping hole and she had at least four very powerful bacterial infections which made it impossible to close the wound. During a surgery in Nigeria, a doctor who had tried to cover her wound with a skin flap of her upper arm had cut through her radial artery which was the main supplier of blood to this limb.”
Eventually in January 2015, she was able to close the wound using two metal plates. By February, she connected her arm to the front abdomen from where she needed to graft skin.
“Orr’s arm was stapled to her front belly for the next six weeks to enable the flap tissue to get strong and grow over her arm and eventually separated the tissue and the arm from the belly. It was a difficult reconstruction,” said Savvidou.
Since Orr’s insurance had expired, a Dubai-based charity paid for her surgery as she had lost her job during the ordeal but kept soldiering on.
“I did several sessions with the hyperbaric oxygen chamber which helped heal a bit and I continued to do yoga as my arm has become shorter and my posture has become lopsided. I need to make efforts to move all my joints and manage the pain in my other joints owing to the imbalance. I can now use the forefinger and thumb to pick things up, I was able to feel the tip of my nose with the fingers of my affected arm after about two years and that was a great relief. In these two years, I trained hard to use my left inactive hand which I use with success now. I am thankful my arm was not amputated,” said Orr who has filed a legal case against her company in the UK given the incident happened while on duty.
Mastiff breed is powerful
According to the American Kennel Club, the South African Mastiff, known formally as the Boerboel, is a large powerful dog kept as a general farm dog for the pioneers who settled in South Africa since the seventeenth century. These dogs were often the first line of defence against predators and were valuable in tracking and holding down wounded game.