In early November 2020, pro skateboarder and model Brooklinn Koury's cousin in Gilbert, Arizona, invited her to visit for a relaxing trip filled with girl time and hanging by the pool.
So on Nov. 3 of last year, the cousins got their nails done and ran some errands. They were in the car driving home when Khoury snapped a selfie. Self-conscious of a small zit near her mouth, she cropped her lip out of the photo.
Back at her cousin's home, Khoury was standing in the kitchen when she went to pet her cousin's dog, an 8-year-old blue nose pitbull named Diesel, who she had met many times before.
"I was like, 'You're such a good boy.' He literally sprung from a sitting position like onto my face," she recalls to PEOPLE in the latest issue. "I was standing, and he was sitting — he literally just sprung up. And he was literally, hanging — literally like arms, legs hanging off of my lip. And my first instinct was like, 'Oh my God, get on the ground with him, hold his head, go wherever he goes.' "
Whenever he pulled, she moved with him. "Finally, I felt a release. And then, something flew and hit the wall," she remembers.
Brooklinn Khoury instagram Brooklinn Khoury
She stood up, took a deep breath before realizing she tasted blood: "I looked down and my whole shirt was just blood — like blood, blood, blood everywhere," she says.
She saw a pink lump on the floor, and — realizing it was her lip due to the presence of the zit she'd just cropped from her photo — she wrapped it in a napkin and rode with her cousin to the emergency room.
Ryan Young Brooklinn Khoury
Despite their quick response, the surgeons, unfortunately, weren't able to save Khoury's upper lip.
Later that week, she posted a selfie from her hospital bed, writing, "hug somebody you love." She decided to document every part of her healing journey because, even in her skateboarding posts, she always showed the good and bad — including falls.
"Life is not perfect," she says. "Instagram is a place where people can hide who they really are."
But she refuses to do that — and thinks that in life, like in skateboarding, you learn from your mistakes.
Khoury admits that "the first time seeing my face after the surgery was scary." She continues, "But I was like, 'Okay, time to love this new version of myself for now.' I want people to know that they're not alone if they're going through something like this."
For more about Brooklinn Khoury, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE.
This past year, the skateboarder — who loves pickles and overalls — has spent a lot of time trying to be happy. She still surfs and skates and hikes. She loves hanging out with her pomchi (a pomeranian mixed with a chihuahua) named Pickles. And she and girlfriend, Dance Moms alum Chloé Lukasiak, adopted a kitten named Lady.
She and Lukasiak met just days before her attack. They had a Starbucks coffee date and then carved pumpkins together.
"I just fell so hard," Khoury says. She remembers worrying about their relationship while she was in the hospital. "I was like, "What if she doesn't think I'm pretty anymore?' "
But Lukasiak has stood by her and encouraged her, and every day tells her how beautiful she is.
"She's just incredible," Khoury says. "She's the best."
Brooklinn Khoury Instagram Brookline Khoury and Chloe Lukasiak
RELATED: Dance Moms Alum Chloé Lukasiak and Brooklinn Khoury Embrace in New Photos: 'My Favorite Human'
Khoury recently had the first of five reconstructive surgeries to rebuild her upper lip. Her surgeon describes the process as an art project. The surgery was a skin graft and tissue transplant from her arm.
"It looks like a baby shark bit my arm and they had to sew my skin back on," she says.
For now, Khoury says, "I'm learning to love myself. I want to inspire as many people as I can."