A new leg for brave Siya

By Gabisile Ngcobo
09 June 2016

She lost her leg in a brutal dog attack – but little Siya is pushing ahead with her will to walk and succeed at school.

As she manoeuvres her way around the tiny kitchen and living room it’s clear 10-year-old Siya Khumalo has adapted well to using crutches to get about.

Her mom , Wendy, asks her to fetch a hairbrush and Siya moves with ease, planting the rubber ends of her crutches firmly on the ground so she can swing her one leg forward.

As she sits down Siya tucks her pretty polka-dot dress under the stump of her right leg. Her eyes are fixed on her cellphone and her thumbs move quickly over the screen. She’s playing a game called Minecraft, she tells us, and then flashes a smile our way.

It’s been almost a year since she was viciously mauled by her former landlord’s three pitbull terriers in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, and lost her leg. She’s recovered well physically but the trauma of that day will forever linger in her mind.

It haunts her parents too. It’s as if the image of Siya’s mangled leg is burnt into their brains. “It doesn’t want to leave my mind. It always comes back when I look at her,” says Vusi (38), Siya’s father.

Siya’s prosthetic leg will enable her to live a more normal life. PHOTO: Martin de Kock Siya’s prosthetic leg will enable her to live a more normal life. PHOTO: Martin de Kock

When doctors at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital told Wendy and her husband their daughter’s leg would have to be amputated to save her life, it was a double shock. But they realised it had to be done.

“Her leg was green on one side because of the infection and her kidneys were starting to fail,” Wendy says. Her child’s leg bones were visible where the flesh had been ripped away.

The devastated parents gave permission for the procedure to be done and Siya’s right leg was amputated above the knee. Doctors also performed a skin graft, taking skin from her left thigh to cover her stump.

“I could see her coming to after the operation,” Wendy says. “She started opening her eyes, but it took a while before she spoke.”

Read more: Girl’s leg amputated after dogs attack her

Siya, nine at the time, couldn’t understand why she’d woken up with one leg. “It was so sad,” she says, bursting into tears and burying her face in her mom’s bosom. “Sorry, my baby,” Wendy consoles her, stroking her back. There’s silence as Siya

tries to compose herself.

“She used to ask, ‘Mommy, am I going to die now that I don’t have a leg?’ She’d cling to the blanket covering her and didn’t want anyone to remove it.”

“It was hard,” Vusi says. “She was hysterical and the way she wept affected us.”

Siya Khumalo and her mom, Wendy, are very close. PHOTO: Martin de Kock Siya Khumalo and her mom, Wendy, are very close. PHOTO: Martin de Kock

Sitting next to her mom on the couch Siya recalls the day her life changed forever.

“It was the 25th of May last year,” Siya begins. “I came back from school, opened the gate and locked it again.”

As she crossed the backyard to the family’s rented room, the three pitbulls closed in on her. She tried in vain to poke at them with the keys in her hand but to no avail.

“One pitbull jumped on my back and I fell down. Another one bit my leg and the other one was also on my back,” she

recalls. “I can’t remember for how long I wrestled with the dogs but it was long.”

Her screams alerted neighbour Mkhey Sibanda, who peered over the wall to see Siya lying motionless on the ground. “I thought she was dead already and the dogs were still biting her,” he says.

Mkhey grabbed a big stick and jumped over the wall. He hit the dogs but they kept attacking Siya, he says. “I went back to my house and got a hammer and ended up killing one dog,” Mkhey says. “The other two ran to their cage in the garage.”

Read more: Mother breaks her own daughter’s leg over 300 times to avoid amputation

Siya doesn’t remember much about what happened afterwards, adding that she didn’t feel any pain. “I was just tired,” she says.

Mkhey’s wife called an ambulance but it took hours to arrive and Siya was still lying on the ground in a pool of blood when Vusi got home from work at around 4.30 pm.

People tried to stop him from entering the property but Vusi pushed his way in – and couldn’t believe what he saw.

“There was blood everywhere,” he says. “Her school uniform was white but you couldn’t see the colour because it was covered in blood.”

“You could see she’d cried until she couldn’t any more,” says Vusi, who immediately called Wendy to tell her what had happened.

A frantic Vusi asked a neighbour to take Siya to the hospital. “I wrapped her in a blanket, got her onto the back seat and we took her.”

Siya before the attack. She dreams of helping the sick and injured by becoming a doctor. Siya before the attack. She dreams of helping the sick and injured by becoming a doctor.

Siya was in hospital for three months and during that time her mom spent many nights there sleeping on benches.

“I lived in that hospital,” Wendy says. She’d freshen up in a public toilet in the mornings and then go to Siya’s ward to bathe her.

After she was discharged they had to visit the hospital three times a week to have Siya’s dressings changed and for physiotherapy sessions.

Ever since the incident Wendy, who’s unemployed, walks her daughter to school every morning and fetches her again in the afternoon. Siya’s crutches will hopefully soon be a thing of the past as she recently received a new prosthetic leg.

“It used to break my heart that she couldn’t walk on her own,” Wendy says. Siya’s still learning to walk with the prosthetic leg and Wendy hopes it will help her daughter live a more normal life.

Read more: Mom of terminally-ill six-year-old overwhelmed by kindness of strangers

Wendy and Vusi are grateful to the people who’ve rallied around them and helped Siya. The DisChem Foundation paid for the material and it was made by Johannesburg-based prosthetist Roger Wolfson at no charge.

Siya now attends private school Verney College. The school has given her a scholarship up to Grade 12 and is also paying for her stationery.

“If it was just my wife and me facing this, I don’t think we would have been able to handle it,” Vusi says.

They’re incredibly proud of their brave daughter. “I was expecting poor school results but she’s still doing well,” Vusi says.

“She’s so strong. I don’t think I’m as strong as she is.”

“I got my strength from my mother and father,” Siya says, adding that she’ll try to do even better next term. She wants to be a doctor one day and save people’s lives – just like the doctors who saved hers.

She misses swimming and playing netball but still enjoys going shopping with her mom. “People look at us and feel sorry for us, but we don’t feel sorry for ourselves.” She agrees with everyone who thinks she’s strong. “Yes, I’m an amazing girl and a brave girl,” she says. One of the pitbulls that attacked her. One of the pitbulls that attacked her. What about the dogs?

One of the pitbulls that attacked Siya is being rehabilitated at Soweto Animal Rescue and Advisory Centre. Jerry Selwane, head of the centre, needed a warrant from the police in order to remove the animal – the only one authorities believe has a chance of rehabilitation. The second animal was put down while the third was killed by a neighbour on the scene.

The dogs were chained in a confined space which would have raised their stress levels and triggered unpredictable behaviour, Selwane says. “It’s a miracle the girl survived.”

  •  If you’d like to help Siya Khumalo email careline@dischem.co.za.

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