Monday, 24th March, 2014
By Emily Roberts
On August 5, 2012, Leanne Barber awoke on a cold morning to the sounds of screams and cries for help.
Without thinking, Leanne ran outside to find Damien Novello being savagely attacked by three bull mastiffs cross breed dogs.
“It was a freezing cold morning about 7 am I heard a noise, this terrible noise,” she said.
“I still remember it. Damien was screaming for help, he had lost so much blood - I didn’t know what to think.”
As Leanne tried to help Damien, the dogs turned on her.
“I caught the eyes of one of the dogs and I just knew they were coming for me,” she said.
“They grabbed my arms, legs, buttocks. There is a tear in my shoulder and there were bites all over my body and one on my face.”
Recently, Leanne was told she would be receiving a medal for acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.
It is the third highest Australian Bravery Decoration.
Leanne is the only woman who has received the award from the list of awardees this year. She is also the only woman in Broken Hill to receive it.
The Bravery Medal is a circular bronze medal ensigned with the Crown of St Edward. The medal is surmounted with the shield and crest of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms. The Federation Star is above the shield, which is contained in a circular zigzag border.
“I was nominated for the award, I was honoured to accept it and in due course there will be a ceremony,” she said.
“It was a big surprise, I didn’t think people did things like this but there are nice people around in Broken Hill.
“I did save a man’s life, but I didn’t expect this.”
What saved Leanne was playing dead. She worried she wouldn’t be able to get to Damien.
Leanne believes the reason for the attack was that the dogs were hungry.
While the attack was vicious and will leave Leanne with scars for the rest of her life - she doesn’t blame the animals.
Leanne was thankful her neighbour called the police.
“I yelled out and told her not to come out, but to call the police,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if someone else was hurt.”
Three police officers who responded to the call had to fire pepper spray and a Taser at the animals after they were also threatened.
One of the officers later discharged her firearm in the direction of one of the dogs which were eventually captured and destroyed the following day.
Leanne went through seven-and-a-half hours of surgery to repair all the wounds.
“I spent 14 days in hospital,” she said. “I couldn’t work for months, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t shower without help.
“I needed staples and sutures because all the wounds were different.
“I also needed a lot of antibiotics and pain relief, dogs mouths are full of filthy germs - it’s very rare if a dog bite doesn’t get infected.”
Leanne was very lucky that a specialist surgeon and anaesthetist on duty at the time of the attack were able to treat her, and had the expertise and knowledge regarding dog-bite trauma.
“I would have been dead if not for them and the wonderful operating theatre staff,” she said.
“Rehabilitation was the killer, and not being able to work - it was dreadful.”
Even 18 months on, Leanne has just finished physiotherapy and counselling.
“I couldn’t get out of bed, I didn’t want to live like that. I was in the deepest depths of despair.
“A turning point was when a friend asked me to go to football, I didn’t want to at that stage
“But, when I went and saw the Westies and North play - I really enjoyed it. Mind you they (Westies) lost that day.”
Leanne’s daughter, Geena, was away when the attack happened and her husband Terry was unaware what had happened.
“Terry didn’t know where I was,” she said.
“I was on call for work and sleeping in the spare bedroom - so I didn’t wake Terry, if I was called in.”
Leanne has been asked by many people if she would go out and face the dogs again.
“People often ask me, would I do it again - and I say probably. I would do things differently though.”
Leanne said she is now very cautious of dogs.
“I didn’t want to be known as the woman who was attacked by dogs,” she said.
“I want to be known as a mother, a good wife, someone’s sister and daughter and a good friend and nurse - it is the worst feeling in the world thinking you are going to die.
“I seem to know when I’m safe or not around dogs now, but I am very, very cautious.
“It will take a long time to get over. This is not how I envisaged my life at 51.
“I suffer from soreness in my legs and arms - but there are people a lot worse off than me.”
During the attack, Leanne said she thought of her family.
“I was worried about Geena and Terry - I want to see Geena finish university, get married. I thought I still have to be a grandmother one day,” she said.
Leanne said if it wasn’t for the help of her friends, family and colleagues - she wouldn’t have got through.
“People helped take care of me, helped with the house work and washing, cooking ironing,” she said.
“I couldn’t have done it without them.”
After all this, Leanne has been able to go back to work at the hospital, stay on as president of the Nurses’ Association Broken Hill Branch, and be involved in many other things such as the St Pat’s Club committee.
“I’m still doing my bits and pieces and sticking my beak in things,” she said.
Even though Leanne wasn’t allowed to say she was receiving an award, she did tell her father, who passed away on January 13.
“As I knew Dad would have not been here when the award was announced, I had to tell him, but he was always proud of his girls.”