Bouncing Back From Tragedy

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Little girl makes miraculous dog mauling recovery

At her second birthday party, Alessia Sansotta-Ingrasselino (center) celebrated with her mother Dianna Sansotta-Ingrasselino (left) and her surgeon, Dr. Rachel Ruotolo
(Photo courtesy of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group)

Alessia Sansotta-Ingrasselino is a miracle baby who just celebrated her second birthday at Patrizias of Long Island in Hicksville on Sunday, July 12. Mother Dianna Sansotta-Ingrasselino was joined by Alessia’s father Michael, her sister Angelina Sansotta and special guest Dr. Rachel Ruotolo to celebrate this significant milestone. What made this event so special? The fact that on March 6, the then-20-month-old child was mauled by a dog, leaving multiple bones, tendons of the eye, eyeball, jawline and skull exposed and fractured. Over the next month, Alessia would go to three separate hospitals, endure hours of surgery and flirt with a serious near-death situation unrelated to the initial attack.

 

The Accident

Ten minutes after the elder Sansotta-Ingrasselino dropped daughter Alessia off at her mother’s Bay Shore home before heading off to work at The Refuge in Melville, she received a hysterical call about an attack by her mother’s pet. Racing over to where her child was being rushed over to West Islip’s Good Samaritan Hospital, she arrived to hear Alessia calling out for her mother. While the person on duty tried to comfort Dianna, the frantic parent wasn’t prepared for the scenario awaiting her.
“I went into the room and it was like my worst nightmare,” she said. “I can’t ever unsee what I saw. Her face was off. There was a tendon that holds your eye in place and it was [hanging] off. Without that tendon, your eye just goes wherever it feels like going. She was missing skin on her eyelid, so her eye was to the side. Her nose was off. I saw bones and her nasal cavity. It was horrific.”

Alessia Sansotta-Ingrasselino wound up getting hospitalized at Stony Brook and Cohen’s Children’s Hospital after she was mauled by a dog
(Photo courtesy of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group)

A CAT scan was done and Alessia was transferred to Stony Brook. Intubation was done on Alessia due to swelling and she went into surgery at 3:30 p.m., emerging at 4 a.m. During this time, wounds were cleaned out, repairs were done, her eye was checked out and a tracheotomy was performed. At midnight, Dianna was informed Alessia’s stomach cavity was filling with air and the source couldn’t be traced. While the medical team waited for swelling to go down over the next few days, the unsolved problem wreaked havoc on the little girl’s oxygen and blood levels. The decision was made to transfer the patient on March 13 to Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, the only local hospital to have an ECMO machine (provides heart-lung bypass support outside of a baby’s body; similar to the machine used in open-heart surgery). A phalanx of Suffolk County Police officers escorted Alessia to her third hospital.

It Takes A Village

At Cohen’s, Alessia was examined by Dr. Lee Smith, chief of the division of pediatric otolaryngology with subspecialty training in advanced pediatric airway reconstruction. Within an hour and a half, a tear discovered in his patient’s airway was quickly repaired and she avoided being put on the ECMO machine. From there, Alessia wound up in the hands of Dr. James Bradley, one of the world’s experts in craniofacial and plastic surgery. It was at this point that Aunt Angelina connected with Ruotolo on the latter’s Instagram page on March 17 and began messaging the doctor, who was scheduled to be at the hospital the next day. After connecting with Alessia’s mother, the renowned pediatric and craniofacial specialist agreed to reach out to Bradley on behalf of Dianna. The lead surgeon immediately invited his colleague to join the medical team. It was a decision the worried mom was incredibly grateful for.
“[Dr. Ruotolo] said she worked with Dr. Bradley before and would reach out,” she recalled. “She reaches out to him, he’s on board with it and I have two top people in the operating room for my child. It was a Godsend. It couldn’t get any better.”

An x-ray of Alessia Sansotta-Ingrasselino’s face after her dog attack.
(Photo courtesy of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group)

Bradley and Ruotolo were joined by pediatric surgical specialist Dr. Aaron Lipskar for a roughly seven-hour procedure that included nasal reconstructions, repair of jaw and orbital fractures, laceration repairs, eye tendon realignment and tongue reconstruction. Part of Alessia’s rib was used to reconstruct her orbital rim while rib cartilage from a cadaver substituted for the missing structural support of her nose. The little girl’s immediate post-operative journey included relearning fine motor skills, walking and figuring out how to use her rear and side teeth to eat given the front six are missing.

The Road Ahead

Now that Alessia has reverted back to being the picky two-year old her mother says she’s become, the little girl’s road ahead will involve a number of procedures according to Ruotolo. But given the amount of trauma her small patient has already endured, the doctor feels she needs a break.
“The major procedures are bone grafts to her upper jaw and left orbital [floor] for her eyeball,” Ruotolo explained. “In order for her to ever have teeth on her upper jaw, she’ll need bone grafts and dental implants. She’s healing beautifully now, but you never know. I honestly don’t feel right now that she needs anything urgent. Maybe another procedure in the next year, but maybe not. We’ll come to these decisions with the mom and see how she’s feeling about everything and how Alessia is feeling. Right now, we have nothing planned.”

While Alessia Sansotta-Ingrasselino miraculously recovered from her dog attack, she faces a number of surgical procedures as she gets older.
(Photo courtesy of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group)

While the family was in the midst of moving to Arizona, plans have been put on hold to be close to Ruotolo. Dianna is firm in saying she “Will not let anyone else touch Alessia.” With future procedures looming including dental implants and reconstruction that may not be covered by insurance, the family has started a GoFundMe campaign titled “Help Alessia Sansotta-Ingrasselino” with a $100,000 goal. Sansotta-Ingrasselino has been overwhelmed by the support and kindness her daughter has received.
“You see all this bad stuff like COVID-19 and death happening and then I read these things that people write,” she said. “It shows that there are people out there that are good.”

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