Helms was keeping her injured left hand wrapped in a glove. She also suffered arm and chest injuries.
(T-G Photo by David Melson)
More than 60 stitches. Eighteen bites. One life saved. Barbara Helms will be forever grateful to two Shelbyville police officers who saved her from the grip of an angry PIT BULL protecting its seven puppies on May 28.
"If I hadn't grabbed the dog's collar I'd be dead," said Helms, 72, who was on her back being bitten in the arms and hands when officers Bobby Peacock and Bruce Davis distracted and shot the pit bull at a Fairfield Pike home. "Those policemen saved my life."
Helms, a friend of Kathy Collins, owner of the dogs, was helping return the puppies within a chain-link fence after they and their mother escaped.
"The dogs were coming around the fence and she leaped out," Helms said.
"Each time she would place a puppy in the pen, the female pit bull tried numerous times to attack her," Davis said, noting it had also been "extremely aggressive" toward officers.
Helms and Collins were advised by officers to leave the area near the fence. Helms walked to the front yard while officers cited Collins for allowing the dogs to run at large.
"We saw children next door become extremely frightened and ran to the front of the residence," Davis said. "The dog had gotten out and was attacking Mrs. Helms."
"I reached up and grabbed her collar," Helms said. "If I hadn't I'd be dead. I'm fortunate she weighed only 40 to 50 pounds."
A nurse at Vanderbilt Medical Center, where Helms spent hours in surgery, told her pit bulls can exert 3,000 pounds of pressure.
"I heard her screaming and ran to her," Peacock said.
"When I stopped and yelled at the dog to distract it, it ran at me like she wanted to kill me," said Peacock, who fired a shot that didn't stop her.
"I had to shoot it a second time to stop it."
"It was pretty intense," Davis said.
Helms was still thinking of others as she was being transported to Vanderbilt after initial treatment at Tennova Healthcare-Shelbyville.
"On the way to Vanderbilt all that I could think about was that I had to get my friend to fill in for me cooking at the soup kitchen next week," Helms said. "I couldn't call her so Clarence, one of the EMT's, called her on my cellphone.
"She saw my name come up on her phone and then heard him say, 'This is Clarence' and she was so upset all she could say was, 'Oh, Clarence, you're taking her to heaven!' thinking of Clarence the angel in the movie "It's A Wonderful Life."
Helms' middle finger on her left hand was her worst injury -- "hanging by a thread," as she described it.
"The doctor wanted to cut off this finger and I refused to let him. I know my Lord's going to heal my finger," said Helms, a member of Gateway Church who credits her faith with helping her recover.
"I do a lot with this finger. "He said, 'I'll save it for you but you're going to be back here.'" Her finger appeared to be healing well last week.
Helms was up and around for the first time since the accident last Wednesday, optimistic for a full recovery but wincing at the slightest contact with her glove-wrapped left hand.
"I'm just glad the dog had its rabies shot," Helms said.
"I told my son (Jason Helms of Florida) a ceiling fan fell on my back and now I've been attacked by a pit bull. How many 72-year-old women can say that?"