Victim of bear attack relies on faith

Five days after being attacked by a huge grizzly bear in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Michael A. Dunn awoke one morning to see the sunlight streaming in the window of his hospital room in Jackson, Wyo.

"I could see the green mountains around Jackson. I woke up and I just cried, but they were the most wonderful tears of joy — knowing that God is in heaven and in charge of the world. The world is a beautiful place. I had an overwhelming feeling (of appreciation) that I was alive," said the Park City jogger and marathon runner in recalling a harrowing experience of being mauled by a bear, his subsequent seven-day stay in the hospital and recuperation at home. First counselor in the bishopric of the Park City 1st Ward, Park City Utah Stake, Brother Dunn, 36, was vacationing at the park with his wife, Linda; their three children, Jeffrey, 10; Brady, 8; Emily, 4, and his wife's parents, Ken and Ginny Poulson, also of Park City.

Michael A. Dunn speaks about his experience of getting attacked by a grizzly bear and living to tell about it at at this Latter-day Saints fireside for single adult youth at the Riverview Stake Center in Draper, Utah, Sunday, April 18, 2010. | August Miller, Deseret News

A senior writer at Bonneville Communications in Salt Lake City, and winner of Emmy and Clio awards for his work on the Church's "Homefront" series of television commercials, Brother Dunn was jogging early one morning in August on the north end of the Emma Matilda Lake Trail when attacked by the bear.

Alone at the time in a heavily wooded and peaceful area, he apparently surprised the bear, which evidentally was eating in a patch of berries off the side of the trail. Running at full speed, the bear charged Brother Dunn, inflicting deep wounds over much of his body.

During a Deseret News interview, Brother Dunn said he screamed to alert others who might be nearby and prayed as hard as he could for help. Realizing soon that it was useless to fight the bear, Brother Dunn curled up in the fetal position and played dead. The bear then left him alone and left the area. He said the attack lasted about two minutes but seemed to drag on for a half hour.

Praying to God was a natural reaction. Just the day before, Brother Dunn said he prayed while on a different trail.

"The morning was so beautiful. It had been raining the night before and clouds were hanging over Jackson Lake in a very misty fashion. You could see the tops of the Teton range rising above the clouds. ... I was so moved by the beauty around me that I stopped, got down on my knees and prayed aloud. It seems so ironic. I was so overcome by the beauty of that day, and just a day later I was overcome by a bear.

"Prayer is as natural to me as is running. It is a daily part of my life. Looking back on this crisis, I'm glad that my instincts were to pray and ask Heavenly Father to bless me, to help me out of the situation. I didn't see it as a futile sort of prayer. ... I knew that if it was God's will that I was to live that He would find a way to answer my prayers.

"But I had no idea if I would make it because it was such a traumatic event. But after I had prayed and the bear got up and left me I knew it was my turn to do my part and to get up and help myself as much as I could," Brother Dunn said, recounting how he removed his long-sleeved T-shirt and made a tourniquet for his badly injured right leg.

During the attack he suffered numerous bites, gashes and claw marks over much of his body, including deep slashes near the femoral artery in his leg. Slashes were inflicted on both sides of the artery but not on the artery itself.

The jogger's family was camping about five miles away at Colter Bay during the attack. After the attack, Brother Dunn hiked about a mile to where he came upon three hikers.

"I know the only way I walked that distance and got out of the situation was because of God's help. I was blessed with being able to keep calm ... so I could help save myself. I had a very heightened sense of information coming in. ... There were two ways I could go — either take a shorter route or take a much longer route back to the lodge. In my mind it was confirmed to me the direction I should go — the longer route. That worked out perfectly because I got to a meadow area on the trail where the hikers were. That is what saved me."

Park rangers arrived on the scene about two hours later, and Brother Dunn was transported by helicopter to St. John's Hospital, located about 20 minutes away by air.

Sister Dunn and their children were about five miles away at Colter Bay. She said she realized something had happened to her husband, who had taken their car to the area where he started an 18-mile run on the heavily traveled trail that loops around Two Ocean and Emma Matilda lakes. The lakes are located northeast of Jackson Lake Lodge.

"I knew something was wrong. I got all the children together, and we started riding bikes toward the lodge, hoping we would see him. It was on the ride to the lodge that we were stopped by park rangers and told that Mike had been mauled by a bear and was being life-flighted to the hospital. The rangers then transported our family to the hospital," Sister Dunn said.

Sister Dunn's father, Ken Poulson, who was among other family members at the park, learned of the attack minutes before planning to leave the park. He notified the Dunns' bishop, Mark Young, who with his wife, Sue, and their family made a five-hour, 250-mile trip to Jackson, arriving at the hospital shortly after Brother Dunn went into surgery.

Two operations were required within three days. During the grizzly attack, Brother Dunn suffered 16 wounds or lacerations that required 300 stitches to close. He quoted a doctor as saying it is a miracle that the bear's claws missed a jugular vein on the side of his neck. Had the vein been hit, "the doctor said I would have been dead in three to five minutes."

Three or four days after the attack he said he woke up in the middle of the night in the hospital and relived much of the frightening experience.

While still a patient in the hospital, Brother Dunn said he called the Wyoming hikers on the telephone who came to his aid in the park.

"It was so wonderful to talk to someone who had saved my life. My heart was so full of joy. The only way I could express it was through my tears. It was so wonderful to tell him how much I appreciated all they had done."

During the Deseret News interview he also expressed appreciation to the National Park Service rescue staff and to doctors and other staff at St. John's Hospital.

Michael A. Dunn holds a pair of carbon fiber sunglasses which show the indentation of the bear claw and which helped save his life by protecting his eye from the claw of the bear as he speaks about his experience of getting attacked by a grizzly bear and living to tell about it at at this Latter-day Saint fireside for single adult youth at the Riverview Stake Center in Draper, Utah, Sunday, April 18, 2010. | August Miller, Deseret News

Reflecting on his experiences, Brother Dunn said, "There is something about being on a solitary mountain trail that helps to clear your mind, to think and to really meditate." He said he was deep in thought when he encountered the bear. Just about a week earlier, he and his wife saw a brown bear while climbing the Grand Teton.

"Like most people, I've wondered how I would die. I don't dwell on that, but on the day of the bear attack it occurred to me that I was going to die on a dusty trail and in the clutches of a grizzly. I realized I was overmatched by the animal and assumed that it would do what such animals normally do — kill its victim. My next concern was for my wife. I was concerned about who would tell her and how she would react."

Since arriving home Brother Dunn has received follow-up care at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City and at Summit Sports Medicine in Park City. One treatment is a daily 20-minute soaking in a whirlpool with topical antibiotics. Personnel there also redress and bandage the leg wound.

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He now walks slowly and with a limp but says he is "feeling really good. I see real progress toward recovery. Many areas have already scabbed over and are healing very nicely. I have scars now, but a plastic surgeon was very complimentary of the (medical care) given in Wyoming. We'll have to wait about a year to see how things go and maybe have some additional plastic surgery."

"I'm a lucky man. I hope I am able to run again," said Brother Dunn, who was training for the St. George (Utah) Marathon.

He said the members of his present ward and former ward (Mt. Olympus 7th Ward, Salt Lake Mt. Olympus Stake) and many Park City neighbors have been "wonderful, providing lots of love and support" in numerous ways.

"Everyone has been so remarkable in terms of service and love to my family. They have wrapped us in their arms and really taken care of us."

Sister Dunn said the accident and all that has happened since has "sharpened" her awareness of life. "I have a really good husband. This has made me realize it even more," she said.

Brother Dunn said he doesn't think anyone goes through a near-death experience "without being changed — hopefully for the better. This experience has given me an even-greater appreciation for God's creations, the Earth, nature — and even bears."

He has maintained a sense of humor as evidenced by a bear pattern shirt he wears and the good-natured way he refers to teddy bear gifts and a "bear crossing" sign posted near the front door of his home.

"There's been no end of bear stuff and bear jokes," he said.

Surviving the attack and being the focus of love and attention from his family and others has made "me want to experience life even fuller. I find myself wanting to hug my family longer and more frequently. It has given me a desire to serve others more, to get outside my own little world and look for ways to meet the needs of others. It has given me a greater appreciation for the gospel. It means drinking deeper from life. I find even more meaning in the words of the scriptures. I have a desire to read and understand them more."

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