Little Alessia Sansotta-Ingrasselino was only 20 months old on March 6 when a pitbull owned by a family member viciously mauled her in an unexpected attack. In mere moments, Alessia went from a happy, healthy toddler to a little girl who would be lucky to survive her devastating injuries.

According to a GoFundMe page established by Alessia’s family, she was left with “a fractured jaw, broken and shattered bones throughout her nasal passage,” and the loss of “the bony ridge that contains the sockets of the upper teeth.” The dog’s teeth also tore through tendons in Alessia’s eye, eyeball, jaw, and skull.

After an immediate 12-hour surgery, Alessia was placed on a ventilator and endured a number of serious health complications. Over the next two weeks, the little girl was treated by medical teams at three different hospitals as they fought to stabilize her condition.

Of course, her family and doctors knew that Alessia would need extensive cosmetic surgery to reconstruct and restore function to her damaged face. As they waited for Alessia to regain some strength, her aunt, Angela, reached out to Dr. Rachel Ruotolo, a surgeon at Long Island Plastic Surgical Group who specializes in pediatric craniofacial plastic surgery.

For Dr. Ruotolo, there was no question that she was the right surgeon to help Alessia. She told reporters, “This is right here in my backyard. This is my specialty. This is all I do. So it was not even a question.”

On March 19, Dr. Ruotolo and a team of surgeons at Cohen Children’s Medical Center spent seven hours reconstructing Alessia’s face. Using a piece of Alessia’s own rib, Dr. Ruotolo was able to rebuild her nose. She also used resorbable plates to fix Alessia’s facial fractures and reattached the tendon connected to her eye.

On April 4, just shy of a month after her attack, Alessia was released from the hospital. Her family reported that she quickly returned to her energetic, bubbly self and has continued to make tremendous progress.

For Alessia, the road to full recovery will be a long one. The resorbable plates used to reconstruct parts of her face will need to be replaced in a couple of years, and additional surgeries will be required as she continues to grow. However, Dr. Ruotolo promises she will be there with Alessia and her family every step of the way. As Dr. Ruotolo says, “this is a relationship for life”.

While Alessia will require years of care and surgery as she grows, right now she and her family are just focusing on joy. In July, Alessia celebrated her second birthday at a party filled with family, friends, princesses, and one very special hero: her new friend, Dr. Ruotolo.

At one point during the party, Dr. Ruotolo teared up. She told People Magazine, “It definitely was a surreal feeling. When I was standing there at the end, and Moana was there and dancing with Alessia, it was impossible not to get emotional watching that because of where she came from. It was very special to be able to be there.”