Charlotte, who was mauled by a raccoon inside her family home when she was an infant, is undergoing another facial reconstruction surgery today at William Beaumont Hospital in the Detroit area. This procedure will produce more smiles than the rest — the surgeon is constructing a new set of lips for Charlotte.
The surgery is the fourth in a series designed to build a nose, lips and right ear for the little girl whose face was ravaged by a raccoon when she was 3 months old.
In September 2002, a raccoon climbed into the girl's crib at her birth family's Ravenna home and chewed off much of her face.
“She was put down at night with a bottle,” Sharon Ponce explained of her brother's grandchild. “They were living in a pole barn my brother had made by their house. It was made into an apartment.
"Mom was next door on the computer (and) Dad was out somewhere," Sharon continued. "The pet raccoon somehow got in the house. It was probably hungry and wanted her bottle. By the time Dad found her, it had pretty much eaten her face.”
Charlotte's parents lost custody of the girl after the attack. Tim and Sharon Ponce of Spring Lake Township took in Charlotte and her older brother, Marshall, and adopted them both three years later. The Ponces are the children's great-uncle and great-aunt.
It's been a long road to recovery for Charlotte and her adoptive family. The girl underwent a six-hour surgery in August. Two weeks ago, the now-10-year-old endured a five-hour surgery to rebuild her lips.
“It was really tough on her because she couldn't talk and couldn't eat,” Sharon said. “But she's a real trooper — just like she's been with all of the surgeries. Her spirits are good. It's just another challenge.”
After today's procedure, Charlotte will have a full set of lips — something she hasn't had since the raccoon ate them away.
“It will be exciting to see her with a full smile,” Sharon said. “I can't wait. We're coming down to the finish line.”
The Ponce family has traveled to Beaumont Hospital once a week for the past three months for checkups.
“I hate watching her have to go through all this,” Sharon said. “But she's such a trooper. She knows it's part of the process. Every time she has a surgery, I'm so amazed at how well she does.”
Sharon said her little trooper loves receiving cards. Address them to: Charlotte Ponce, P.O. Box 397, Fruitport, MI 49415.