The 38 special has always been a marginal self defense round. The 38, 380 and 9mm have been notoriously unpredictable. There is a picture of a felon in the old calibre press book "Street Survival" who took 33 hits to the face, neck, upper chest to stop.
Police departments that were using 38 Special +P's and switched to the same companies magnum load went from having to shoot bad-guys 5-6 times to 1-2 times.
In my experience you want a moderate to heavy bullet at a hefty velocity (above 1100 FPS).
I am glad here and her children are ok, that was some fine shooting. Irregardless of anything, her shots stopped the attack and allowed her and hers to escape, so in reality her 38 did fine. It would have been nice to have a reload available though.
My rifle and pistol are tools, I am the weapon.