A BRAVE four-year-old from The Rock is expected to make a full recovery after about 30 per cent of his scalp was ripped off in a horrifying dog attack.
Doctors suspect that the wound on the young boy's head will heal with minimal scarring, a testament to staff at the Canberra Hospital and his mother who both continue to play vital roles in his rehabilitation.
Clayton O'Leary has undergone several surgeries since November 12, when a relative's dog latched onto his head and dragged him across the floor of a home in Queanbeyan.
His mother, Kristy Gordon, also obtained significant injuries to her face and arm during the incident from attempting to release her son from the animal's jaws.
"[The dog] was muscly with really short hair and no collar on, so I had absolutely nothing to hold on to, and it just kept slipping through my arms," Ms Gordon said.
"Once Clayton was released, the dog then turned on me while trying to push him through the door. It wanted to get back at Clayton."
Both mother and child were transported to Canberra Hospital requiring immediate surgery, with Clayton's detached scalp presented to medical staff.
"Even though he was having his head wrapped after seeing a part of his scalp hit the floor, he still turned to his brother and said, 'I'm OK, Hunter, I'll be OK'," Ms Gordon said.
Dr Paul Machado, a plastic surgery registrar at Canberra Hospital, said Clayton's age increased the level of urgency once he was admitted to the emergency department.
"All injuries to a young child, especially a four-year-old are quite significant," Dr Machado said.
"In this case, it was quite a large portion of his scalp that was taken away from his head, and I suppose to put that into context, probably about a 20 per cent, or 30 per cent piece of his scalp was removed."
Surgeons went to work replanting Clayton's scalp during a major operation that required microscopic stitches in an attempt to reattach his blood vessels and re-establish blood flow.
"He has had quite an extensive operation at the first instance ... and from there he's received general care on the ward, leeching and there's no sort of fancy term forit, it is how it sounds," Dr Machado said.
Used in special circumstances where body part needs re-attachment, leeches are used to draw out old blood from the wound, stimulate new blood flow and lower the risk of clotting.
Medical staff had to decide whether it would be best to keep Clayton in the paediatric unit or transfer him to another ward where leech therapy would more commonly be conducted.
Ms Gordon said a decision was made to keep him where he was.
"He had six days of leech therapy, which was a completely new experience for not only myself and him but also the nurses who had to apply it," she said.
A vicious cycle of ups and downs followed Clayton's first two surgeries, causing more concern for the family.
"He was lethargic and grey, he had no colour in his lips," Ms Gordon said.
"They were unable to draw blood after multiple attempts of pricking him with needles ... they would make the decision to give him another bag of blood which would see him looking good again for a short while.
"And then he would just drop again."
But his condition began to improve following the third surgery. Not long after, Clayton was ready to come home for the first time in 11 days.
Dr Machado said the reattached scalp is growing back into place exceptionally well, and upon Clayton's most recent visit, he was the picture of a "jovial, fun-loving little boy".
"He's a remarkably resilient and courageous little boy, and he's doing amazingly," he said.
"A huge amount of credit can be given to the team as a whole ... he's had therapy and management from units such as the paediatric team, the anaesthetic team, the surgical team and all of the nursing staff that have had to be there 24/7."
Clayton's family was advised that given the particular injury and his age, the four year-old would require around-the-clock care throughout his time in hospital.
Ms Gordon could not thank the staff and volunteers at Ronald McDonald House enough, after she and Clayton's father were granted accommodation for seven days so that they could remain by their child's side.
Dr Machado praised Ms Gordon and Clayton's family for their proactive engagement with the health system.
"This is obviously a big event in both Clayton and his family's life, and they have been so strong within all of this and have played a huge role in his recovery as a whole," he said.
In preparation for what still lies ahead, Ms Gordon has already begun organising therapy for Clayton, herself and her other son Hunter, who witnessed the attack, amid ongoing mental health concerns.
"[Clayton] started having nightmares in the hospital, he was worried about the dog getting him while he was there," she said.
"When we got home finally, [our dog] was very excited to see us and was jumping up, making that heavy cry noise dogs do.
"It absolutely petrified the living daylights out of [Clayton] ... it literally got me shaking in my skin too, even though our dog has never shown any aggression.
"For me, now realising how much strength dogs have, it really scares me that I may be put in that position again. Wrestling that dog off was much harder then I'd ever thought it would be."
Ms Gordon wants others to know the importance of safety around dogs and for owners to take extra care in situations that may cause an animal to feel threatened.
"Just take extra care to make sure that an incident like this won't happen, because their strength is just something that I'd never comprehend," she said.
How you can help
A Go Fund Me has been set up on Clayton's behalf by a family friend which has well surpassed its initial goal, reaching $3145 so far.
Ms Gordon said the money raised will go towards organising therapy and other aspects of Clayton's recovery without financial worry.
To donate, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/f/please-help-kristy-clayton
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