Montana man to return home from weekslong hospital stay after bear bit off lower jaw

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(MONTANA) — A Montana man who survived a horrific bear attack and endured arduous surgeries to repair his jaw shared that he wanted others to keep on fighting as he prepares to head home after five weeks in the hospital.

“Even if there seems to be no hope, keep on fighting,” Rudy Noorlander said in a message read by one of his daughters at a press briefing Friday.

Noorlander, 61, a Navy veteran, was helping a group of hunters track a deer in Big Sky, Montana, on Sept. 8 when a grizzly bear attacked him and bit his lower jaw off, his family said.

Following emergency surgery in Bozeman, he was flown to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, where over the past five weeks he has undergone multiple surgeries, including a complete jaw reconstruction.

“The people who are there with him said, it’s really bad,” one of his daughters, Katelynn Davis, told reporters during the press briefing at the hospital on Friday. “We knew he’d fight no matter what, but we just didn’t know how much of a fight it was going to be.”

Noorlander lost a large portion of his lower jaw and his larynx was fractured in the bear attack — making him largely unable to speak, according to Dr. Hilary McCrary, a surgeon at the University of Utah Health who treated him.

Though following surgeries to stabilize his neck and reconstruct his jaw, he is expected to fully recover, she said.

“He was very adamant that he was gonna fight this thing and get through it,” McCrary said during the briefing. “For someone to be so enthusiastic about his prognosis and outcome that early is very heartwarming as a physician.”

Noorlander will need to come back to Salt Lake City for additional surgeries, though the bulk are done, McCrary said. His family expects him to be able to go home to Montana on Monday.

It is painful for Noorlander to attempt to talk now and he will need to work with a speech therapist. He will also need to work on eating without risking infection, McCrary said. In a message read by Davis, Noorlander said he looks forward to enjoying his first root beer float.

Noorlander, an avid outdoorsman who owns Alpine Adventures in Big Sky, has had encounters with bears in the past. He was prepared with bear mace and a gun when he went out to help the hunters track a deer on a trail in Big Sky but he “didn’t have time” and his gun misfired before the bear attacked, Davis said.

One of the reasons he likely survived was being with a group, Davis said. The other hunters were able to scare the bear away and call 911, his family said.

Noorlander wants to tell his story about the bear attack itself when he can talk, as well as write a book about the experience. He also wants Cole Hauser of “Yellowstone” to play him in a movie, his daughter said.

Noorlander, who communicated using a whiteboard during the press briefing, joked that he would “win round #2” with the bear.

When asked why he wanted to share his story, he wrote: “Only by the hands of God am I here. I’ve had a lot of inspirations and I felt the need to share my story with others. And believe it or not, I believe that this attack was an answer to my prayers and that potentially it could help somebody else going through something similar.”

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