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Surgery at Hollywood hospital restores girl’s torn lip

With her lips partially sewn together, 11-year-old Jacklyn Tucker can’t quite form words, but she is able to mumble. She spends her days texting friends and writing.

Jacklyn, a patient at Joe DiMaggio’s Children Hospital in Hollywood, is recuperating from surgery to reconstruct her face after a dog attacked her in June.

She was watching a movie during a sleepover at a friend’s house in Royal Palm Beach.

According to her father, Jacklyn rolled off the couch and when she tried to get up, Tanker, a male English bulldog and Jack Russell terrier mix, attacked her repeatedly.

Jack Tucker remembers picking up a piece of his daughter’s lip from the floor as she was taken on a Palm Beach County Fire Rescue helicopter to St. Mary’s Medical Center.

At first, Tucker thought the bite was a little “nick,” but realized it was much worse in the emergency room.

The attack left the tissue from her top lip to her left nostril almost completely torn off, with teeth and gums visible.

After emergency reconstructive surgery, Dr. David Rankin of St. Mary’s in West Palm Beach tried to look for blood vessels to reconnect the native tissue that had been pulled off.

However, attempts to restore a blood supply, which would allow the tissue to function effectively, were not successful.

Jacklyn was taken to Joe DiMaggio’s Children Hospital in Hollywood on July 2. There, plastic surgeons Drew Schnitt and Christopher Brooks weighed several options before completing an abbe flap procedure a day later, where a portion of Jacklyn’s lower lip, which was not affected by the dog bite, was taken to complete the upper lip. The treatment is common for cleft lip patients.

At a news conference held Friday morning at Joe DiMaggio’s Family Resource Center, the surgeons discussed the procedure and even drew a few diagrams.

“She had a massive devastating defect that is not something that is seen everyday,” Schnitt said.

After the surgeons spoke, father and daughter appeared, their eyes glued to one another. When Jacklyn dropped her yellow bumble bee pillow pet, her father snatched it up before it had hit the ground.

Jacklyn can only eat with a straw while her lips are sewn together for about three weeks, but the tissue should be restored.

“If everything goes well and scarring is good, she won’t need anything done for sometime, if not forever,” Schnitt said.

Tucker is proud of her daughter’s resolve.

“She’s holding up stronger than me,” he said. “She doesn’t want pain medication. She doesn’t want nothing.”

Depending on the success of Tuesday’s surgery, one more operation should have her “looking very reasonable,” Schnitt said.

Tucker, a tow tuck driver, has been by his daughter’s side — and out of work — since the attack. He said the first thing Jacklyn wants to do when she returns home is simple.

“She just wants to sleep,” he said with a chuckle. “Sit it in her own bed.”