Woodstock resident Kellyn VandeWalker received more than 100 stitches in her face Wednesday and likely will have many surgeries ahead to repair her nose after its bridge was seriously injured when a large dog attacked her.
But the 20-year-old newlywed’s attitude remains bright, and she is thankful her eyesight is not at risk and her sense of smell seems to be intact.
The incident occurred Feb. 5 in a Woodstock home and involved the dog of family friends. VandeWalker was supervising the family’s 10-year-old son.
She said she had just gotten back to the family’s home after running an errand with the boy and was getting ready to watch TV with him. She sat down on the couch and started to pet the dog while it was sleeping on the end of the furniture.
“I came, sat down on the edge of the couch, and I put my hand on the dog. He started growling a little bit. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s OK.’ And then he turned around and latched onto my cheek,” VandeWalker said. “It’s pretty traumatic to think about all of this. I have visions back to when exactly it happened, so that’s no fun. It felt like years that this dog was on my face. It was like five seconds.”
She lost most of her nose in the attack.
The family that owned the dog decided to euthanize it after the attack, VandeWalker and her mother, Erin Carey, said, and they remain friends with the family.
They declined to publicly identify the breed of the dog or the family that owned the animal, but they said it was not a pit bull and it had experienced “previous trauma.”
VandeWalker was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago after initially being taken to Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital following the attack.
“It’s been a challenge to go immediately to a mouth-breathing situation for her,” Carey said.
VandeWalker, a 2019 Woodstock High School graduate, was quick to make a quip in response to her mother’s comment.
“I lost my nose, I gained the ability to snore,” said VandeWalker, who was working as a technician in a COVID-19 unit in the Huntley hospital before the incident. So far, her husband, Alec VandeWalker, has not been bothered by the snoring, she said, adding, “He’s stoically supportive.”
In addition to taking a break from work to recover, VandeWalker also had to pause her studies to become an emergency medical technician at McHenry County College. Trying to have a baby in the first year of her marriage, which began in September, is now out of the question, too, because of the number of procedures requiring anesthesia she could need.
Carey has organized an online fundraiser for her daughter through GoFundMe, and donations can be made at gofundme.com/f/help-kellyn-recover. They said they are unsure what kind of expenses they will have to pay out of pocket to the surgery team helping VandeWalker and for the other costs of her recovery, versus what her insurance plan will cover.
The GoFundMe page had raised almost $11,500 out of a $30,000 goal as of Wednesday evening.
The family also has retained a lawyer, they said, to help interpret the homeowner’s insurance policy of the family who owned the dog in case a payout from that could cover any costs.
VandeWalker, an identical twin, said she hopes her repaired nose will look the same as her sister Kiara’s, as it did before. The two grew up with indistinguishable physical traits.
But no matter what, she said, she isn’t letting the painful, frightening event damper her outlook on life.
“I think one thing that is incredibly important for anyone who has had trauma is to find the silver linings,” she said. “It’s really hard sometimes. Maybe sometimes there isn’t one, [or] it’s really small and you have to search to find it.
“My smile, because of how puffy it was, is getting better and better every day. I haven’t lost my sense of humor. This hasn’t broken me. It won’t break my spirit.”