How far will a father go to help his young son out of danger?
Luis Brignoni, 41, a Bradenton-area landscaper, found out Friday when one of the family dogs bit off his son’s pinky finger and swallowed it.
Brignoni rushed out to his fenced backyard with a gun and killed the dog, cut its stomach open, and retrieved the digit, carefully sending it with his bleeding son aboard a helicopter to a St. Petersburg hospital.
The child, Fernando Brignoni, 11, was later transferred to Tampa General Hospital, where doctors were unable to re-attach his finger during emergency surgery, but the boy is doing well, said his dad Saturday.
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“You don’t know what you will do for your child,” the elder Brignoni explained. “You don’t know where you get the strength from.”
Brignoni, who said he had been a hunter for many years, said his son had attempted to pet the caged dog, a Malamute-wolf mix named Sassy, at about 6 p.m. Friday when the animal grabbed his hand.
Hearing screams, Fernando’s brother, Luis, 13, hit the dog over the head so it would let go. When Fernando finally got free, the finger had been entirely bitten off, and the dog who had swallowed it was running around the yard.
The boy’s dad knew he had no choice: “I said, ‘I’ve got to go find the finger,’ ” Brignoni said. “I got my gun and I popped him.”
By the time a sheriff’s deputy got there, Brignoni was cutting the dog open.
Doctors decided that nerve damage precluded the finger’s re-attachment, Brignoni said.
Brignoni and his wife, Millie, returned to their home Saturday at 6:30 a.m. after seeing Fernando through emergency surgery in Tampa.
On his iPhone, Brignoni carried a picture of Fernando, a student at Oneco Elementary, lying peacefully in bed at the hospital.
Deputies said a preliminary investigation supported Brignoni’s account of the events, and the incident appeared to have been an accident, according to a release from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Manatee County Animal Services took possession of the remains of the dog, the news release said.
Brignoni, who is an ordained minister for the nondenominational Love Family Church, planned to postpone Easter services for a week.
He recalled that Fernando had mentioned that it was Good Friday, an important day for Christians, when Jesus Christ is said to have died on the cross.
“He said, ‘Dad, this is Good Friday, and it’s not so good,’ ” the elder Brignoni recalled.
Fernando is slated for release from Tampa General Hospital on Monday, he said.