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    ‘It’s a miracle that she survived’

    Family members say spunk and support have helped Kayla recover from a dog attack.

    [Times photos: John Pendygraft]
    Zachary Yagmin, 4, waits for his sister Kayla, 6, to wake up after she had stitches and staples removed Thursday.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


    TAMPA -- The four pit bull terriers left Kayla Yagmin with more than 120 cuts, some of them 3 inches long. Jaw-shaped wounds pierced her body.

    Doctors thought she might not survive the trauma or the six-hour surgery; at least 50 staples and 100 stitches were used to close her wounds.

    She lost her left ear.

    She is 6 years old.

    But on Thursday -- 11 days after the four dogs attacked her -- Kayla slept peacefully in purple pajamas in her hospital bed, the cuts on her face and neck starting to heal. The night before, she raced wheelchairs in the unit. Happy pictures the St. Petersburg girl has colored since the attack adorn her hospital room door.

    Family members say Kayla's spunky and strong-willed nature, coupled with the support and prayers of a community, helped her pull through the ordeal.

    "It's a miracle that she survived," said her mother, V.V. Yagmin. "There were a couple days where we didn't know if she would live or die."

    The attack occurred April 22 when Kayla was at the Clearwater area home of her sister, Angela Yagmin, and Angela's fiance, Lloyd Everett. Kayla wanted to go outside and say good night to the couple's four American Safford shire pit bull terriers.

    Angela Yagmin, 24, placed Kayla atop her shoulders piggyback style, then took her outside. The door to the dogs' pen was open. Kayla wiggled, then fell off her sister's back.

    Suddenly, the dogs were on the 43-pound girl. Angela Yagmin said the attack wasn't as vicious as it was playful, as if the dogs thought Kayla were a toy.

    Kayla yelled for help. Her sister grabbed her, ran to the garage and hoisted Kayla atop a washing machine. She ran water in the bathtub, put the dogs away and called 911. She took Kayla into the bathroom to wash her off.

    Kayla was calm. There were no tears.

    "There's a hole in my butt," she told Everett.

    But when Kayla's pants were removed, the severity of her injuries was apparent. Minutes later, she was on a helicopter en route to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

    During surgery, doctors grafted part of the femoral artery in her left leg into the brachial vein under her right armpit, which the dogs crushed during the attack. Trails of stitches and staples were sewn into Kayla's body to hold her wounds together.

    While Kayla struggled at the hospital, Angela Yagmin and Everett decided that although they loved their dogs, the pets had to be destroyed.

    Family members said the attack was an accident, an instinctual decision the dogs made as a pack. But they could not bring the dogs back home.

    "We shouldn't have had four," Angela Yagmin said. "I would say our lesson is learned."

    Family members say Kayla practically grew up with the oldest of the dogs, a gentle 6-year-old female named Sadie. Family photos show them sleeping together or sitting next to each other on a boat.

    The other dogs were a 3-year-old male who was bred with Sadie, and their two puppies, a male and female about a year old.

    Angela Yagmin said the dogs were raised well and never attacked anything. Still, Kayla's mother said the incident serves as a warning.

    "Take a second look and be very, very cautious," she said. "Be cautious of a number of dogs, no matter what the type."

    Kayla probably will need plastic surgery or a synthetic left ear.

    Kayla's right ear was torn in the attack, but it was reattached. The only other permanent damage will be scars and possible nerve damage under her armpit, her mother said.

    The youngster has remained in high spirits, buoyed by hundreds of cards, balloons, flowers and toys she has received, many of which decorate her hospital room. Her mother said there are prayer lines for her daughter in eight states.

    "I mainly want everyone to know she's okay and thank them for their support," her mother said.

    Family members say the little girl's positive attitude also helped her pull through.

    A kindergartner at Pasadena Community Church School, she is known for greeting new students and introducing them to other classmates. She has done the same at the hospital, inviting other young patients into her room to see her toys and animals.

    And she appears to have no fear of dogs: She has watched 101 Dalmatians in her room and has adored a therapeutic dog that the hospital staff brought to the unit.

    Despite all the tape holding her cuts together and her missing ear, family members say Kayla's attitude will quicken her recovery.

    "We almost lost her," her mother said. "Now every day is 100 percent better than the day before."

    To help

    Friends have set up a trust fund to help Kayla Yagmin's family pay for medical expenses that have accumulated since she was attacked by four dogs. People interested in donating can go to any local Huntington Bank and ask to donate to Kayla's fund.

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