It’s been one month since 8-year-old Emily Ruckle was critically injured by a pit bull inside her home, but on Tuesday, after enduring nine surgeries to reattach her arm, the daughter of Councilman Todd Ruckle was released from the hospital.
Emily and her parents headed home from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and were met at Newark city limits by Newark Police officers, who used two motorcycles and a police cruiser to escort the Ruckle’s car to city hall, where Emily stopped to thank the officers who responded on the day of the attack.
“She had to stop here first and say thank you to the men in blue,” Todd said.
Emily was home alone with her half-sister, Megan, 15, on Sept. 27 when she was mauled by a pit bull owned by Maria Ruckle’s ex-husband. Megan fought off the dog, called 911 and used first aid training she received as part of the Civil Air Patrol to help her sister.
Cpl. Andrew Pagnotti, Ofc. Dan Burgess and Master Cpl. Truman Boulden were the first to arrive at the home in the Stafford neighborhood and shot and killed the dog. Emily was rushed to A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children and from there, was flown to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she has been recovering for the past month.
Todd said the process has been long and hard for him and his wife, who took turns staying in the hospital with Emily every night. For the first six days, Emily was in a medically-induced coma and suffered a sudden onset of hypothermia and some fluid buildup in her lungs from blood transfusions.
The 8-year-old said the hardest part about being in the hospital was being away from her classmates at Newark Charter School.
“I missed having all my friends with me,” Emily said.
She said she also missed her sister, Megan, who is credited with saving her life.
“She’s the best big sister I could ever ask for,” she said.
Several people came to visit Emily while she was in the hospital, including Megan, Pagnotti, University of Delaware mascot YoUDee, Mayor Polly Sierer and former councilman Jerry Clifton, who is a family friend of the Ruckles.
Earlier this month, Clifton helped organize a comedy show fundraiser for Emily. The event drew about 700 people and raised $30,000 from ticket sales, “For Emily” bracelets and donations. The money will go directly to the Ruckle family to help pay for some of the medical bills.
“Jerry Clifton has been so great. He’s been like a brother,” Todd said.
Emily received cards from local elementary school students wishing her a speedy recovery, and members of Maria’s Padua Academy graduating class also reached out.
Todd said the outpouring of community support for Emily over the last month helped lift everyone’s spirits.
“There’s been so many happy moments, unbelievable moments,” he said. “We’ve felt every emotion in the last 30 days.”
Clifton said Emily wasn’t expected to come home from the hospital for another month, but he was happy she was released early. He said the entire Ruckle family is relieved to have Emily back.
“I know it’s been really stressful on them,” he said.
Clifton was at city hall Tuesday afternoon to welcome Emily home. The 8-year-old ran into his arms before she was escorted into police headquarters by officers who gave her some of the department’s trading cards and let her sit on a motorcycle.
Maria said Emily received Pagnotti, Burgess and Boulden’s cards, but was most excited about the K-9 cards. At home, she said, Emily has a special bond with the family’s 8-year-old German shepherd, Kona. She likes to dress Kona up like a princess and paint his nails, Maria said.
“I’m so happy to be back in Delaware, but my favorite thing about Delaware is Kona,” Emily said. “I missed him.”
Even though Emily is home, Maria said the journey of recovery for her daughter isn’t over. She will start rehabilitation in a couple of months, and they are expecting to be back at the hospital for more work on her arm.
“It’s going to be years and years of surgeries to get it looking like it did before,” Maria said.
In the meantime, she said, the family is planning to meet with officials at Newark Charter School to discuss creating special uniforms that accommodate Emily’s injury. They said Wednesday they hope she returns to school by the end of the week.