Jan. 24—SACKETS HARBOR — Margaret A. Mintz's life needed some direction and continued recovery. She was beginning to find that salvation in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, last year, working at a job she enjoyed, finding new friends and relaunching a stalled singing/songwriting sideline.
"Things were going well," the 2018 graduate of Sackets Harbor Central School said.
Now, Miss Mintz faces a new struggle after being attacked by a dog in Lake Havasu City on Jan. 1. The attack left a large part of her face in tatters. She spent nine days at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, undergoing two surgeries for facial reconstruction, with more surgeries planned.
"I was alone in the hospital for two days, so I was terrified," she said in a phone interview. "I thought I was going to die."
In the United States, where 45% of homes have at least one dog, 4.5 million people suffer from dog bites each year, with more than 800,000 requiring medical attention, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. It's something that can happen in an instant, and without warning. Insurers paid out $881 million in dog bite-related claims in 2021.
The previous struggles for Miss Mintz have included battling drug addiction and all the heavy baggage that brought.
But last year, she literally followed in the footsteps of her father in an attempt to find a new life with an outlook as bright as the city she settled in: Lake Havasu City, a city of about 57,000 in southwestern Arizona with 400 miles of coastline that advertises itself as "Arizona's playground."
It's a vibrant city that is growing. Census data shows it attracted about 5,000 new residents in the decade between 2010 and 2020.
Her dad, Army veteran and Sackets Harbor resident Kenneth J. Mintz, began his Kenny Walks Across America fundraiser on April 1 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He finished it on Saturday, Oct. 22, his 174th day of walking. He raised money for three charities: The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Operation Resiliency and the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund.
While he was on his walk Mr. Mintz, who has homes in Sackets Harbor and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, invited Margaret to join him. She flew to Indianapolis, where her dad picked her up.
"I was living a bad life, going nowhere," Miss Mintz told the Times in November. Considering her dad's request, Miss Mintz said she thought, "I could come out here and restart my entire life. I very well may not have an opportunity like this again. I was unemployed, with no money."
A few days into her walk, she discovered that her dad's support van needed a new driver. She switched from walking to driving — and fully supporting. Together, they made it to the Pacific Ocean. While on the way west, Miss Mintz discovered Lake Havasu City, where she decided to put down roots. She arrived in the community, where she knew no one, two days after her dad's walk concluded.
"I had to restart my life," Miss Mintz said in November. "I decided I'd regret it if I don't stay out here and instead go back to Pennsylvania to live with my dad."
Both her mom and dad eventually arrived at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center to be with her earlier this month. "Mom got there first and my dad the next day," she said. "Mom was there for a couple of days and stayed in the hospital with me. Because my dad's retired, he stayed until we flew back."
Now, Miss Mintz is recovering at the home of her mom, Karyn Cordero Carbone, in Sackets Harbor. Miss Mintz said she's just visiting because all of her follow-up medical appointments, and related insurance coverage, are in the Lake Havasu City area. But she has been seeing Watertown plastic surgeon Dr. Deana E. Paley.
"I have another follow-up with her on Wednesday," Miss Mintz said on Monday. "She took out some of my sutures for me."
A GoFundMe account has been set up for Miss Mintz. As of Tuesday afternoon, $9,541 had been raised for expenses related to the dog attack. The account has a goal of $20,000.
In the "Words of Support" section of the account, one donor wrote: "Many of us realized you had your own story even though we followed Kenny. Walk strong."
A spokeswoman for the records division of the Lake Havasu Police Department said a report was not immediately available.
"I can't disclose anything that much specific about the situation," Miss Mintz said. "But literally, it was New Year's and I got attacked by a dog."
She said the last she heard, the dog was in quarantine, assumingly, with police. "I haven't heard anything since," she said.
On New Year's Day, Miss Mintz and some acquaintances stopped into the home of one of her friends, in the early morning hours of Jan. 1.
"We walked in the door and we were all sitting together and the dog was on the floor with me and just went and bit my face," Miss Mintz said.
She doesn't recall the breed of the dog, but said it was large, perhaps a mixed breed.
The dog's owner managed to get the dog off her, but the damage had been done.
"I don't take many things seriously, and even now, it's not like that serious to me," Miss Mintz said. "But I've had attorneys and stuff say, 'This is one of the worst bites I've ever seen.'"
But Miss Mintz said it could have been worse.
"I got really lucky," she said. "The dog took the whole upper part of my lip and part of my cheek was completely gone." She said a doctor used part of her bottom lip to put on her top lip.
"They're still attached and it's hard to talk without a lisp," she said. "I can't wait until my mouth is open because eating is very difficult and embarrassing."
She eats mostly through a straw — drinks smoothies and protein shakes.
"I can eat actual food if I cut it into tiny, tiny little pieces," Miss Mintz said. "I do that quite often, like with a sandwich, because I can't open my mouth. I don't like to eat in public because I usually drool all over myself."
But her outlook is positive and she repeated how lucky she feels.
"I can still breathe, talk and eat," she said. "Maybe I can't sing to my liking yet, but that'll happen. It's kind of just super uncomfortable, if anything."
Miss Mintz's first opportunity to sing in public will arrive on Saturday. An open mic fundraiser has been organized to help GoFundMe fundraising efforts. The benefit, from 4 to 7:30 p.m., is at the Sackets Harbor Ballroom, 103 W. Main St.
The featured act will be Miss Mintz's brother, Maximus Mintz, and his Syracuse-based band Delinquent Activity.
"I'm probably going to sing a few songs," Miss Mintz said. "I can still sing a little bit."
A similar fundraiser was held on Jan. 10 at Rickety Cricket Lake Havasu Taproom, where Miss Mintz has performed at open mics. The Rickety Cricket fundraiser was organized by Gayle "Stormy" Patrick and Claudia Stack, veterans of the Lake Havasu music scene.
Ms. Patrick, who sang in Las Vegas for two decades, said she became acquainted with Miss Mintz after the owner of the Pour House in Lake Havasu City recommended Miss Mintz, who inquired about live music opportunities, should contact Ms. Patrick.
"She reached out to me on Facebook chat," Ms. Patrick said. They met at the Flying X, a country establishment in Lake Havasu City which hosts an open mic on Mondays.
"We just bonded instantly," Ms. Patrick said. "She started performing. She's amazing. I told her, 'You should be recording.' Her voice is so unique. She needs to be on 'The Voice' and she needs to be recording. That's how much faith I have in her. I'm 66 and I've sung my whole life."
Ms. Patrick said she was surprised to see Miss Mintz at the Jan. 10 Rickety Cricket fundraiser, a day after she was released from the hospital.
"I go in and Claudia and I are setting up our gear," Ms. Patrick said. "I turn around and nobody is there yet, and here's Maggie sitting at a back table. I'm like, 'What the hell?' I go back to her and we hug each other. She mumbled, "Well, it's my fundraiser.' I said, 'OK.'"
a musical celebration
Miss Mintz's mom, Ms. Carbone, said Saturday's open mic is designed to be a celebration of music.
"Maggie has been regularly participating in open mic events," Ms. Carbone said. "We really hope that others will come out, step up to the mic and celebrate with us. Proceeds will go directly to her recovery — medical bills not covered by insurance, mental health support and/or recovery treatment that may result as a part of all that she has been through."
Maggie, Ms. Carbone said, "is truly one of a kind, amazing in so many ways."
"She has faced significant challenges in her young life, more than most her age," Ms. Carbone said. "Margaret was trying to move forward and create a new life for herself. It wasn't easy, and she was struggling. This incident, while tragic, could be a catalyst for change. I will do everything in my power to support her in her recovery — physical, emotional and the substances that burden her. I will never give up on this girl."
Miss Mintz plans on returning west.
"I don't really know the timeline, what it's going to look like yet, just because my next surgery is supposed to be the 27th of February," she said. "I don't know if I want to stay and wait here or go back before. I'm kind of deciding because I'll have to find a new place to live out there and that kind of stuff."
But one thing is certain for her. She said she belongs in Lake Havasu.
"I didn't know what I was going to do when it first happened," she said of the attack. "But the weather here is horrible and depressing. And I have tons of friends out there, and my music world is out there. I still plan on doing music."
She was also working as a barista in Lake Havasu City. "And I'll still have that job when I get back there," she said.
Miss Mintz was asked how much the episode has set her back in life.
"Mental health wise, it's been very hard for me," she said. "I suffer from depression and probably have other mental health issues as well. It's like a restart, again. And it's been very hard. It's not even that the facial thing is hard, or like the bite made it harder. It's like this is just another thing that I now have to work on."
Despite local support, being back home has its difficulties, she said.
"I feel like a failure, even though I know I'm not," she said. "But it's the added stress now."
But Miss Mintz said she'd rather deal with her current situation than something else.
"This is not as bad as being in active addiction and struggling, just to get by every day and being a liar to my family," she said. "At least I know I'm doing good in that department, which is like very surprising for me."
She added, "Everything else will come into place, you know? And I know that."
"She's an old soul," Ms. Patrick said. "She's got a good head on her shoulders. Also, it's the love and support of her friends here. Since it happened, we're not saying, 'Oh, it happened, and now she's gone.' I'm still on TikTok with her. Her friends still message her. She's got some real true, blue friends here, absolutely."
Her dad, Mr. Mintz, said Maggie is resilient.
"I believe that she will find a way to turn this tragedy into a triumph," he said. "That's my hope for her."
The situation could also be an opportunity for her, he believes.
"It's an opportunity to be resilient, an opportunity to be an inspiration to others, an opportunity to take a new path and find a better life with new possibilities. There's a long road ahead of her to recover from this, and it is my hope that she sees this journey in a hopeful way."
There's lots to base that hopeful look on, he added.
"I hope that she sees how many people care about her and want to support her going forward in a positive way. She is loved, and none of us get by in the world alone. She is rich in the people in her life, and I see her beauty shining through the wound on her face."
n WHAT: Open mic fundraiser to benefit Maggie Mintz.
n WHEN: 4 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Sackets Harbor Ballroom, 103 W. Main St.
n DONATIONS: Can be made at the event or directly to the GoFundMe account set up in Maggie's name, at wdt.me/maggiefund