By Charity Stinchcomb Montgomery
This Saturday will make one year since the life of my niece, Joslyn Stinchcomb, was forever changed.
The last few weeks I have been anticipating and experiencing some anxiety over the anniversary of her being attacked and viscously mauled by a pair of pit bulls. I have gone back and looked at pictures, looked at posts, reread messages and cards and such to prepare myself for the emotions that I know are going to hit as July 31 approaches. I have had nightmares and dreams reliving that day and some days following. If I am having this, I cannot begin to imagine the emotions and such that our "JBird" is feeling. I have learned through other experiences in life that putting words to paper can help, so I thought I would give a recap and share what the last year has been like for Joslyn and our family.
To start with Joslyn is a beautiful girl. She had taken an interest in being healthy and had started a routine of walking the neighborhood on a daily basis. She was so proud of herself for the distances that she was able to do, how fast she was getting, how good she was feeling, etc. She was so very excited to be starting high school and to be a “GG” Marching Dogg. She had just finished a week of band camp, but was still keeping up her routine of walking when in her words “those demon dogs” attacked her, and her first written words were “they nearly killed me.”
Here is an innocent 15-year-old girl just out for a walk in her neighborhood and she was chased down and attacked by two pit bulls. These dogs went for the kill. They didn’t go for her legs or even her arms. One grabbed her by her hair hard enough to rip her scalp off, and the other had her by her throat. They were trying to kill and eat her, and they nearly succeeded.
I am an AEMT, my husband is a Firefighter/Paramedic, my mom was an EMT-I, my dad is a RN, my brother is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and my other brother was an EMT-I. None of us can explain why Joslyn is alive. We all knew that her injuries that day were too severe and that she shouldn’t survive.
Yes, everyone that helped her that day did a phenomenal job and we are forever grateful to them, but the reality is that she should not have survived her injuries.
It is only by God’s grace that she is still with us. I have images in my head and even on my phone of things that we will never make public, and some of these some of our family has not even seen them as they are just too disturbing to share. However, in preparing to write this, I went back and looked at them. I think of the firefighters/medics and officers that were first on scene. I think of the two girls that called for help. I think of the dispatcher that took the call. I think of the additional firefighters, officers and Air Evac Lifeteam that helped. As an AEMT, I have images in my head of calls that I have ran. So, my heart breaks for them as I know what they saw and did that day has to still haunt them. The way Barrow County Emergency Services, Barrow County Sheriff’s Office, NEGA EMS and the Air Evac Lifeteam all worked together that day is to be commended. They are all heroes.
The only explanation that I have is that God has a purpose for our JBird. That evening while Mom, Dad and I were all in Grady Memorial Hospital’s waiting room, we started a little Facebook Group simply to make things easier for us to get updates out as they became available to us. We had no idea how many people her story would reach. Within days thousands of people were following her story, praying for her, sending cards and gifts, and helping in ways that we could never have imagined.
Joslyn is tough, she is a fighter, and she has continued on when others would have given up. In the last year, she has had 20 surgeries. She has had her trachea repaired, skin grafts taken from her legs to make skin for her head, her skull scrapped to make it bleed to make tissue to attach the skin grafts to, a nerve transplanted from her leg to help with the paralysis in her face, vocal cords reappear (the doctor told us they were gone) and repaired, and so on and so on. She has relearned how to walk, talk, eat, and do simple things that we take for granted. She is still working to improve her voice, that is now more than just a whisper. She is even trying to sing again. She came off of the hospital/homebound program and went to digital learning, and managed to catch up. By the second semester, she was able to attend Winder-Barrow High School in person, and was not behind.
Joslyn has autism, most don’t realize this, so social skills and school are already a challenge for her. However, she worked hard and even earned awards for her hard work this school year. I could go on and on about her accomplishments. Yes, she still gets tired very easy. Yes, she has the gland behind her ear that is a constant problem. Yes, she has to wear a wig if she wants to have hair. Yes, she will still have to have more surgeries. Yes, she still struggles to speak and be heard at times. Yes, she has not been able to go on a walk outside yet due to fear. Yes, she is now very terrified (and rightly so) of all dogs. However, this girl works hard so that most people do not even realize any of this. There is a song by Maverick City Music called “The Story I’ll Tell.” When I first heard it, I cried and listened to it over and over, because the story that Joslyn has to tell has already reached so many people. We still struggle most days and wonder why God would allow this to happen to such a sweet, innocent, beautiful girl, but I hear that song and yes, “the hour is dark and it’s hard to see,” “believing gets hard and options are few”, “But I know that over the years I’ll look back on this moment and see Your hand on it and know You were here, Oh, it’s the story I’ll tell.”
I Of course I just shortened the words, but you get the idea. Think about it, I’m writing this now, you are reading it and Joslyn’s story is being told. So, although we may never know the answer to why this side of Heaven, we know that God has a purpose.
So, where is she and where are we now? Well, Joslyn will have another surgery on August 12th. This surgery will be to work on the salivary gland that is behind her ear. It is crazy to think that she has survived all that she has and to do the surgery to truly fix this gland could kill her. The gland and her carotid artery are all too close. However, they are going to try to inject the gland to “kill it” so that it will quit leaking and becoming infected. Please pray that this works, because we don’t know if the surgery to truly repair it is worth the risk.
She is taking vocal lessons to try and strengthen her voice so that she can speak with more volume and hopefully one day sing like before. Joslyn is about to enter her sophomore year of high school. She is still a “GG” Marching Dogg, and has just completed a week of band camp. The band did a small preview of their show on Friday night. The theme this year is Come Back, which is so fitting on so many levels. My daughter, Joslyn’s cousin, is one of the drum majors, so they get to do band together. It is pretty special. Joslyn is just trying to live as normal of a life as possible, and that is our goal.
Joslyn picks on me for being over protective, but I just remind her that I have earned that right. Mom and Dad are still taking excellent care of her and making sure that all of her needs are being met. Mom is not only caregiver to Joslyn, but also to my grandfather who is now also sick and struggling with his own health issues and pain.
We had planned to have a big “shindig” on Saturday, finish JBird’s walk and have a party to celebrate her, but now with my grandpa being sick and not up to that, we are scaling it back. We still plan to have some of our family and close friends finish her walk. I’d like to encourage anyone that wishes to take a walk on Saturday in honor of Joslyn. You can do it anywhere and for any distance. Post your pictures with #StayStrongJoslyn to whatever social media you use. We will also start a thread in her group so everyone that wants can share those pictures there also. Our goal for Saturday is finish the walk, and have some closure.
Joslyn will have her scars forever, she will never have her own hair again, etc. but we as a family now need to move forward. We will never forget, but not only the bad. We will remember the way our community came around us, the pink porch lights, the pink bows, the signs, the amazing parade welcoming her home, the people from all of the world that have prayed for her and our family, the people and Lowes that donated material and time to build Joslyn a “safe” place outside at her home with my parents, the people from The City of Winder, people from Barrow County, the Revenants Motor Cycle Club, Jackson County Baptist Church, Winder First Baptist Church, the WBHS Bulldogg Band, the Bulldoggs football team, the Bulldoggs Cheerleaders and the many new friends that we have made this past year. There have been so many people and groups that have helped us that I am sure that I have missed some. Please know this was not intentional and we truly appreciate everything that everyone has done for us. Please continue to pray for Joslyn, her medical teams, and our family.
Thank you to everyone that has helped Joslyn, sent gifts, sent cards, prayed, and so much more. We truly appreciate everything that everyone has done. You can continue to follow Joslyn’s story at https://www.facebook.com/groups/66203734774048/
(A Facebook Group called Prayers)