A hand-crushing dog bite required 16 stitches at the Passavant Emergency Department and an orthopedic surgery to reattach a tendon and repair a joint. Rehabilitation at Passavant, and a strong relationship with staff close to home, helped her stay positive and regain grip strength and range of motion.
In April 2017, rural Jacksonville resident Melissa Dyson woke suddenly to a frightening scene. One of her four dogs was attacking another dog on the bed where she slept.
“As she was coming in for a bite, I put my arm up, and she crushed my hand in her jaws,” Melissa said. In addition to the serious bite across her fingers and knuckles, she suffered additional bites to both arms.
When the wound on her hand wouldn’t stop bleeding, Melissa’s husband, Mark, drove her to the Emergency Department at Passavant Area Hospital where she got 16 stitches across the back of her palm and her fingers. She was also referred to Springfield Clinic orthopedic surgeon Jianjun Ma to repair the crushed joint and reattach a tendon in her pinky finger, which was almost severed by the bite.
Complex Injury, Individualized Treatment
Although Melissa had never had surgery before, Dr. Ma made her feel comfortable and answered all her questions.
Surgery was only the first part of her journey. For four weeks, starting two weeks after surgery, she wore a cast and a splint designed to keep her hand elevated. During this time, Melissa depended on her husband to help with everyday tasks like washing her hair. But both maintained a positive attitude—and a sense of humor.
“I told him, ‘This is the for better or for worse part,’” Melissa joked.
After the cast and the four pins were removed, she was able to begin rehabilitation. At the time, she was unable to move her pinky finger at all.
Hand injuries can pose a particular challenge, said occupational therapist Carley Hager, due to their delicate, complex arrangement of ligaments, muscles and joints. Carley worked with Melissa for more than six months to regain function in her hand.
At home, she continued the strength exercises she learned at rehab by flexing the plastic clips used to shut potato-chip bags, sometimes reinforced with rubber bands to increase the resistance.
Ongoing Improvement with Local Rehab
Melissa made slow but steady progress, and by August she was able to grip using her right hand. She continues to improve with the help of rehab and home exercises, gaining grip strength and range of motion.
She said she appreciated the convenience of attending her rehab sessions at Passavant, only five minutes from her home. She also valued the partnership she developed with the rehab staff.
Carley said Melissa has maintained a good attitude, despite the challenges of recovering from such an extensive injury to her dominant hand.
“She’s stayed really positive,” she said. “She’s definitely a trooper.”