Thirteen months ago, Lee Brooke cheated death when he was attacked by a female grizzly bear while hunting in Wyoming. While the bear was able to tear off half of Brooke’s face, he now has part of his face back as a result of extensive surgery, as his story of recovery from a “Revenant-style” bear attack has recently gone viral.
A native of Westfield, Pennsylvania, Brooke, brother-in-law George Neal, and two of their friends had traveled almost 2,000 miles west to Dubois, Wyoming early in October 2016 to hunt elk. At a special event in his hometown earlier this month, Brooke retold the story of this fateful hunting trip, how he nearly lost his life after the bear attack, and how he recovered despite losing a lot of blood and a big chunk of his face.
As Fox 31 Denver related, the hunting trip was going well for Lee Brooke and his companions, as he had shot an elk the day before the incident occurred. When he came back for the elk, he noticed that there was debris covering the dead animal, hinting that a bear had beaten him to it and began feasting on the elk. Sensing danger, Lee turned around to leave, but was grabbed from behind by a large female grizzly bear.
According to Brooke, the bear attack took place “very quickly,” but ended up with the animal tearing off his nose and upper lip. He was knocked unconscious sometime during the attack, and when he came to, the bear was still milling around him, with his life at her mercy.
“I felt her sniffing my cheek. I felt the whiskers.”
Severely weakened and injured by the bear attack, with the blood in his eyes making it hard for him to see, Lee Brooke was nonetheless determined to fight the bear, thinking of how he wanted to survive the attack and see his wife Martha. Armed only with a steak knife, Brooke stabbed the bear, but was bitten in the arm and struck repeatedly until the animal decided to leave him alone, with his hunting party unaware of where he was.
“I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to stab her if I could see her. I had to lean in to stab her in the head. So I was this close to her nose.”
Lee Brooke spent the next hour or so alone in the woods separated from his companions, and, according to Fox 31 Denver, more determined than ever to survive. At that point, he was found by a couple who had then joined him in calling for help, and was eventually spotted by his brother-in-law Neal, who heard his cries for help and ran to the rescue. Neal found Lee’s nose and mustache-covered upper lip, placed the body parts in his brother-in-law’s pocket, and called 911.
After being taken to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado, Lee Brooke was confined for another five months, spending a month in a medically-induced coma and celebrating his 60th birthday in the hospital. As the Telegraph explained, doctors Benson Pulikkottil and Lily Daniali operated on Lee, reconstructing the Pennsylvania man’s face by using part of his fibula bone and some skin taken from his leg.
All in all, Brooke spent three months receiving extensive, delicate surgery, with one of the operations lasting a whole day.
“They were so confident and compassionate and communicated really well back and forth,” Brooke said, praising the doctors who had repaired his face.
“Everybody was phenomenal. They built me up and never let me down. They’re the best of the best.”
Several publications, including the Daily Mail, described the attack that nearly killed Lee Brooke as being reminiscent of the attack in the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Revenant. Like DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass, Brooke survived the mauling, but he still faces his share of medical challenges. His nose is now being fed by blood coming from his arm, and as he still lacks a “good portion” of his face, he speaks through a tracheal tube and is unable to control his tears. The surgery also left his head with several metal plates and screws. Yet he remains thankful to the medical staff who had repaired his face and guided him through a two-month rehabilitation process, where he relearned simple actions such as eating and dealt with the physiological trauma associated with such a life-threatening event.
“We didn’t just fix his body, we really wanted to make sure that he recovered mentally,” Daniali told Fox 31 Denver.
Last year’s bear attack has left Lee Brooke unable to work, but he told Fox 31 Denver that he still loves hunting and “isn’t afraid of it.” The former Maytag repairman will be heading back to Swedish Medical Center shortly after Christmas to undergo several reconstructive surgeries that might take a full year to complete. This could include an operation where his doctors would use what remains of his nose to construct a new one.
[Featured Image by Gregory Zamell/Shutterstock]