A woman severely mauled and nearly killed in an attack by two pit bulls in Fresno last year credits her strong Christian faith for giving her the strength to survive the brutal attack and the will to go forward with daunting physical rehabilitation.
Sanjuana Garibay, 67, lost her left arm and the use of her right arm and a leg in the horrifying mauling in a darkened Fresno alley near downtown in April 2016. Now recovering at a facility not far from where the attack took place, Garibay this week recounted the attack and talked about how she approaches life and recovery.
I’ve never been with someone that had such a positive outlook, given her situation.
H. Stuart Barrett, Sanjuana Garibay’s medical advocate
The two dogs attacked Garibay as she walked through an alley near East McKenzie Avenue and Diamond Street in the predawn hours. She was taking a shortcut to bring $60 to her daughter, who was facing a deadline to keep electric power running at her home. Garibay said she was familiar with the route.
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“I had never seen dogs there before,” she says.
But there they were that morning. Police said the dogs may have found their way through a fence at an adjoining yard. Garibay saw the first pit bull looming in the shadows ahead of her, and when she looked back she noticed the second.
She began to walk faster, and the first dog charged, knocking her to the ground, gripping her leg and tearing. As she fell, Garibay struck her head, breaking her glasses in two. She covered her face with her arm and the second dog’s strong jaws closed on it, ripping it away with stout, strong teeth.
She began to pray, but swiftly passed out from the pain.
Garibay doesn’t know how long she was unconscious. A neighbor had heard her cries and the growling dogs and called for help.
She remembers being loaded into an ambulance.
“There was blood everywhere.”
She passed out again.
Long, painful recovery
When she awoke, she was in a hospital in San Francisco. Garibay had been rushed to Community Regional Medical Center, where doctors, noting the severity of the wounds, ordered a helicopter to airlift her to UC Medical Center in San Francisco. She spent months in the care of Dr. Rudolf Buntic, a surgeon who specializes in hand surgery and microsurgical reconstruction.
As doctors treated her physical wounds, Garibay confronted deep emotional scars.
“I was angry. I used to cry a lot. I didn’t want anybody’s help.
“The doctors would say, ‘Step, by step,’ and I would think, ‘Look at my body. I don’t have it anymore.’”
Now back at the recovery center in Fresno, which she has not left since returning, Garibay will begin physical therapy on her arm this month. Doctors inserted a steel rod into it and grafted a bone near her wrist. She is beginning to feel movement in her hand and can move her fingers for the first time since the attack.
H. Stuart Barrett, who met Garibay while visiting another patient at the recovery center and has become an advocate for her, says he is amazed by Garibay’s strength and attitude. His explanation: “Her belief in God, of course.”
Barrett says he has seen similar attitudes among patients, but, “clearly, she’s the most extreme case.”
“I’ve never been with someone that had such a positive outlook, given her situation. That is a miracle in itself.”
Barrett said it was important to make clear Garibay was not a transient going through the alley when the attack took place, something police said was a possibility at the time. He noted she was on a good-deed mission to help her daughter.
He also said her achievements are all the more amazing because of the challenges she faces at her age.
Always a next chapter
But Garibay has faced a lifetime of challenges.
She was born into a farmworker family in Donna, Texas, in 1949. Her father and mother, Bruno and Flora Caceres, moved to Del Rey when she was young, and she attended Reedley College and Fresno State. She says she became a bilingual teacher at a school near Del Rey. She later moved back to Texas and studied nursing at a school near Harlingen. Like her mother and father, she follows a Pentecostal Christian faith and has taken her ministry into the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Michoacan.
“I always wanted to help people,” she says.
For an example of the strength of belief, Garibay mentions her father, who she says rejected blood transfusions when he was diagnosed with disease that required the treatment.
“‘(God) is waiting for me,’” Garibay says her father told her.
But Garibay says she is not done with life yet. When she leaves the hospital, she plans to go into crisis counseling.
“To help those who think they can’t be helped.”