Dana Feldman of Valley Stream started studying Wednesday to become a physician assistant, a career change sparked by the care she received at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital four years ago.
Feldman, who is attending the New York Institute of Technology, graduated with a degree in psychology in 2012 from SUNY Cortland and originally planned to be a case worker at an assisted living facility.
But a dog attack two days after graduation and the extended medical treatment that followed put her on an entirely different course.
In May 2012, Feldman was relaxing on the couch and petting Sarge, her family’s Cairn terrier, when something upset the normally friendly dog, causing it to bite off nearly half of her right ear.
“I was completely freaked out and panicking,” said Feldman, whose boyfriend rushed her to LIJ Valley Stream. “I couldn’t believe what just happened.”
When the then-21-year-old arrived at the hospital with part of her ear in a plastic cup, Dr. Homayoun Sasson, LIJ Valley Stream’s chief of plastic surgery, had just left for the evening. But when the surgeon received a call about her case, he turned around immediately.
“In situations like this, every minute counts,” Sasson said. “If circulation isn’t quickly restored, that piece will die off.”
Sasson returned to the hospital, reattached Feldman’s ear and gave the patient antibiotics to stave off infection. Although the ear had been stitched in place, “it didn’t look as if it was going to survive,” Sasson said.
The plastic surgeon soon realized he was out of options. He contacted Dr. Devendra Brahmbhatt, the director of LIJ Valley Stream’s wound care center, who advised Feldman to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment often used to treat severe injuries, such as burns or hard-to-heal wounds suffered by those with diabetes. For two hours at a time for the next 50 days, Feldman would breathe 100 percent oxygen under pressure in one of the hospital’s hyperbaric chambers, which raised her blood’s oxygen levels and in turn helped new blood vessels form in the injured region.
Over time, Feldman saw half of her ear change from a dull blue color back to pink. The doctors saved about 90 percent of her ear, she said. The injury did not affect her hearing.
Feldman calls the experience “life-changing.”
“The open discussion that was maintained between Dr. Brahmbhatt, Dr. Sasson and myself regarding my treatment really immersed me in medicine and inspired me to become a PA,” she said.
After finishing her hyperbaric treatment, Feldman, who is now 26, started working as a medical assistant and attended Farmingdale State College to complete the biology, chemistry and other classes she needed to apply for a PA program.
Now, Feldman said she hopes she can one day serve people with the same quality of care she received.
“I left this experience wanting to be able to help care for somebody in the same way these great physicians and their staff cared for me,” she said.
Her former doctor thinks people who have suffered through experiences like Feldman’s are more intuitive caregivers.
“Dana’s going to be more in tune and more sympathetic to her future patients,” Sasson said. “She’s going to make a great PA.”