Royal Oak — Charlotte Ponce wants nothing more than to go riding on her grandmother’s horse and take her bike for a spin, but the 10-year-old will have to wait for a while before she can get back outside.
Charlotte is recovering from surgery to create her a nose, the first of many operations she will face as doctors reconstruct parts of her face damaged when she was attacked by a raccoon as a baby.
“I’ve been walking around and been doing stuff on one hand, but I can’t go outside. I used to ride my bike every day, even when it was raining,” the west Michigan girl said Wednesday during a news conference at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
It’s early in the progress, but her plastic surgeon is encouraged.
The first stage is complete and I’ve very pleased with the result,” said Dr. Kongkrit Chaiyasate, director of reconstructive microsurgery at Royal Oak Beaumont.
Charlotte is at the beginning of a two-year series of surgeries that will give her back a nose, part of her upper lip and her right ear, which she lost when the animal climbed into her crib and mauled her face.
“She’s so used to people looking at her differently that I just think she takes it in stride,” adoptive mother Sharon Ponce said Wednesday, one week after doctors took skin from her daughter’s forearm and folded it over on itself to sculpt the basic structure of a nose.
With her left forearm wrapped in a bandage, and holding her Care Bear, Fluffy, and her doll, Lillie, the thin girl with blond hair and blue eyes talked with spirit about how she knows the hallways of Beaumont better than her father, and how she tells him where to go while he pulls her around in her red wagon filled with stuffed animals.
She said she loves animals despite what happened to her.
When Charlotte was three months old, a raccoon that her biological parents were keeping as a pet got free from its cage and climbed into her crib. at the time, a bottle of milk was propped up against the child, so Sharon Ponce said she believes the raccoon wanted the milk.
The raccoon disfigured the right side of Charlotte’s face, which led to the loss of her right ear and most of her nose.
The Ponces, relatives of the biological mother, adopted Charlotte and her brother, Marshall, after their biological parents had their parental rights terminated and lost an appeal in 2005. Sharon, 52, and Tim, 61, live in Spring Lake, Mich., and have two sons, both in their 20s. they lost another son to crib death in 1991.
Charlotte’s nose is a work in progress. it will take at least three more surgeries before she will have a functional nose that matches her face and skin tone.
Chaiyasate said Charlotte will recover for six to eight more weeks before undergoing the next stage, building a solid structure to support the new nose.
Months down the line, Chaiyasate said he would use part of Charlotte’s bottom lip to recreate her top lip and eventually give her a new ear by carving out part of her rib for the structure and using microsurgery technique to remove skin from her chest plate to cover it.
“My goal as a plastic surgeon is not only the function but also the look,” said Chaiyasate.
Even after the process is complete, Charlotte will still need to come back for procedures once she hits puberty because she will grow and her face will change. she will also need fat injections in her left cheek throughout her life.
“I expect we’re going to know Charlotte for a really long time,” said Chaiyasate.
But on Wednesday, her parents were focused on blessings: a daughter who just days after surgery was jumping on the bed and playing Bingo with other children while working her way through a box of a dozen red, white and blue ice pops.
“I think she’s looking forward to getting it done and just being like everyone else,” said Sharon Ponce.
“The people have been tremendous and the outpouring of love she gets every day; I tell them all the time, we hear all the prayers.”