Emily Ruckle is smiling these days.
A month ago, the 8-year-old’s arm was nearly torn off by a pit bull. After enduring nine surgeries, she surprised her doctors five days ago by lifting her shoulder. That helped earn her a trip back to her Newark home 30 days ahead of schedule.
But before she got to hug her beloved German shepherd, Kona, before she got to go to dinner at her favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A, before she even set foot in her house, she had one important stop to make.
Emily Ruckle, 8, returns to Newark following more than a month in a hospital after nearly losing her arm. But before continuing her recovery at home, she stopped by Newark Police headquarters to greet officers who helped save her life.
Emily wanted to thank the Newark policemen who saved her life.
“She had to stop here first and say thank you to the men in blue,” said her father, Todd Ruckle, a Newark councilman.
Emily’s recovery is off to a good start, but she still faces a long road that includes more major surgery and rehabilitation.
“It’s a long journey, and we’re all going to do it together as a family,” said Todd Ruckle. “We’re going to get this arm better.”
Emily was attacked Sept. 27 while at her home by a dog belonging to her mother’s ex-husband. The dog, Frank, had been staying with Emily’s half-brother in a separate building from the house.
The dog went after Emily when she and her half-sister, Megan, went to let it out thinking it had to go to the bathroom.
The dog attacked Emily, smashing her head on the floor and almost completely tearing off her arm.
Emily endured nine surgeries during her stay at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, including the connection of three of the severed nerve bundles, her father said.
“That could take nine months to see if that works,” Todd Ruckle said. “That’s when we will find out if anything moves and if she gets feeling back in her arm.
“But five days ago, after this, she could lift her entire shoulder up. So the doctor was really shocked that she could do that already.”
If everything goes well, they will try to rebuild her bicep in six months by taking muscle out of her inner thigh. This should not affect her ability to run or jump, Todd Ruckle said. But it will help her use her arm to lift.
Through this difficult month, Todd Ruckle said he is thankful for all the support that he and his family have received. He thanked the police for their quick response and the community for its support.
A recent fundraiser drew 700 people and raised more than $30,000 to help with medical and related costs.
“Our entire family just wants to say thank you for the outreach, all the prayers, all the positive thoughts,” Todd Ruckle said. “There are thousands and thousands and thousands of people that have wished us well.”
The incident seems to have brought the community closer, he said. “It’s just a great community to live in.”
“I’m happy that she’s back,” longtime family friend Jerry Clifton said. “It speaks well to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that they managed to get her home so quickly, and I trust she’ll heal well in the weeks to come.
“I think emotionally, it’s better for her to be home, if possible.”
Clifton, a former Newark councilman, was among several people who greeted Emily and her parents outside the police station Tuesday. Emily wanted to stop at the station after being released from the hospital to thank the three officers who responded to the dog attack and killed the animal.
Emily, who traveled in her family’s Cadillac SRX4, was met at Newark city limits by police and was escorted to the police station. She smiled, nodded and said “good” to those asking her how she was doing.
When Newark police Cpl. Andrew Pagnotti asked Emily if she wanted to stand outside or get some baseball cards, Emily’s eyes opened wide and her smile got bigger as she nodded in approval.
The group then walked into the police station. Reporters and non-family were not allowed to go with them. After a brief meeting with police, the family left the building, avoiding reporters and heading home. There, Emily was greeted by Kona and Megan, who shielded Emily’s neck from the pit bull so the dog couldn’t tear into it.
Megan also called 911 and applied direct pressure to Emily’s arm wound to keep her from bleeding to death.
Emily was tired after meeting with police, Todd Ruckle said. But after a nap, she was ready to go out. She was craving a chicken sandwich, waffle fries and a vanilla milkshake.
On Wednesday, the family will get special school uniforms for her return to school Friday.
“After that, we’re going to drive down to the beach because she wanted to get a [Nicola Pizza] Nic-o-Boli in Rehoboth [Beach],” Todd Ruckle said.
The entire event has changed the family, he said, adding it put everything into perspective.
“She’s absolutely a miracle to be alive, and it’s a second chance,” he said. “So never take anything for granted.”