Community comes together to restore a little girl’s smile after animal attack.

Ten years after the tragedy, even the first responders showed up, all to  support a disfigured little girl who never met a gawker she couldn’t stare down  or a heart she couldn’t melt.

In September 2002, Charlotte Rose Ponce, then 3 months old, was attacked by a  raccoon that broke into her Ravenna home near Muskegon. Her teenage parents had  left her and her 15-month-old brother, Marshall, unattended. The animal had  eaten away her nose, right ear, part of her lips and cheekbone.

After spending three months in the hospital, Charlotte was released into the  foster care of her great aunt and uncle, Sharon and Tim Ponce. Sharon and Tim  later adopted Charlotte and her brother after the state removed parental  rights.

Past surgeries for Charlotte, including attempts to insert screws to anchor a  prosthetic nose and ear pieces were not successful, leading to an avalanche of  tears and heartache for everyone. But recently, Charlotte’s mom, Sharon, was  elated to find Dr. Kongkrit Chaiyasate of Beaumont Hospital’s Center of  Craniofacial and Reconstructive Microsurgery.

Chaiyasate says he’s confident he can rebuild Charlotte’s nose and lips over  the course of three surgeries in the next six to nine months. He plans to use  parts of Charlotte’s ribs to form and structure her nose; skin grafts from her  forearm and forehead will be used for the nasal lining and the skin covering the  nose. Once those have healed, Chaiyasate will take on the ear phase of  Charlotte’s reconstruction.

“It’s a very, very difficult case,” Chaiyasate said recently while studying  Charlotte’s films. But Chaiyasate, who is sought out worldwide because of his  expertise on children with facial deformities (recently kids from Russia, India  and Honduras have made the trek to Royal Oak), says he’s confident Charlotte  will one day have a fully formed, normal face.

Plus, Chaiyasate added: “If we don’t do the surgery now, the deformity could  impact her overall health later on.”

When word trickled out about Charlotte’s upcoming surgery, the community  surrounding the Ponce family in Muskegon also let it be known that money was  especially tight for them. Charlotte’s dad, Tim Ponce, was recently forced to go  on disability after a work-related injury at the local Sara Lee factory where  he’s been employed for close to 40 years.

So the good and decent people that are the family and friends of the Ponces  sought to right a wrong, and over the course of one night they raised close to  $10,000. Spearheaded by Kendal Fazakerley, a stylist at Pompa Do’s salon who  cuts Charlotte’s hair free of charge, a crowd of more than 400 paid $8 apiece  (and then some) for a plate of spaghetti and a silent auction last Friday night  at the Fellowship Reformed Church.

Even the 911 operator who first took the call when the baby mauling was  discovered showed up. She gave Charlotte a big hug. So did the fire chief, first  on the scene that day, and the prosecutor who handled the parental rights  case.

“I must have said I was overwhelmed a thousand times,” Sharon Ponce said.

It seems not one member of the local community wasn’t somehow involved.  Teddy’s Spaghetti, the new Italian restaurant in nearby Cloverdale, donated the  sauce. Cole’s Breads, which has a factory in Muskegon, donated two cases of  frozen garlic bread. After the dinner, the local rock band, Coldville, held a  benefit gig at the Landmark Bar, singing a special song written for the occasion  called “Charlotte Rose.”

Charlotte’s aunt, Amber Ponce, acted as the public relations manager, firing  off press releases that were so attention-grabbing even CNN posted Charlotte’s  story on its website.

Charlotte took it all in, amazed by the fuss.

“She thrived on all of it,” Sharon said. “She felt like a real  celebrity.”

Charlotte’s first surgery, scheduled for Aug. 15, will take six to eight  hours and will require a week’s stay at Beaumont in Royal Oak. Charlotte has  health insurance through Medicaid but when pressed, Chaiyasate admitted  reimbursement will fall far short of the actual cost.

When asked how it feels to impact kids’ lives in such a lasting way,  Chaiyasate, the father of four, said: “I consider my work a privilege and an  honor. When I look at Charlotte I think: What would I do if this was my  daughter?”

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