Image: John Chelminiak
Steve Ringman  /  AP
Bellevue City Councilman John Chelminiak describes being mauled by a black bear last month on Sept. 17. He talked to reporters Wednesday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he has had five surgeries since the mauling at Lake Wenatchee.
updated 10/6/2010 2:54:48 PM ET 2010-10-06T18:54:48

A man mauled by a black bear near his vacation cabin in central Washington says he felt he had to stand and fight the animal to survive the attack.

Wearing a hospital gown and bandages, Bellevue City Councilman John Chelminiak, 57, talked to reporters Wednesday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he has had five surgeries since the Sept. 17 mauling at Lake Wenatchee.

Chelminiak says he wouldn't let the bear keep him on the ground and he kept forcing his way back up as the bear bit and clawed him.

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"I vividly remember being bitten on the head and the sound that makes as her teeth were going into my head and running along the skull," he said. "It was just a horrendous fight."

He made it back to his driveway where his wife found him and their daughter called 911.

When Chelminiak was flown to the hospital in Seattle UW Medicine plastic surgeon Matthew Klein said parts of his face and scalp were hanging off. Doctors had to remove his left eye.

Wildlife agents tracked and killed the black bear a few hours after the attack. They said it was an older female, thin at 148 pounds and in poor condition.

"I do remember her hitting me in my left eye and how that felt. There was just a bright flash of light," Chelminiak said.

Except for the loss of vision, Dr. Klein said Chelminiak should make a full recovery after two or three more surgeries. He praised Chelminiak for his spirit, will and determination to recover.

Chelminiak, his wife, Lynn Semler, and 11-year-old daughter had gone to their vacation cabin that Friday. Chelminiak says he had taken their dogs for a walk when he heard a rustle in the brush and the sound of the bear rushing him.

They wrestled for a time with the bear clawing him. During a break, he was able to reach his driveway where the bear pounced again on the dogs. He was able to pull them free and they went back to the cabin.

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The bruin attacked again, and at one point, when the bear bit Chelminiak in the abdomen, he was able to deliver his best blow with a knee.

At some point the bear stopped. "I had no idea why," Chelminiak said.

Soaked in blood he tried to move up the driveway and kept yelling, "Bear! Bear! Call 911!"

Chelminiak says he contemplated whether he would make it or not and decided to keep yelling.

His wife didn't recognized her husband's voice at first and thought it was a neighbor. When she went outside and found Chelminiak, "I was pretty frightened because he didn't look like himself," Semler said at the news conference.

Chelminiak thanked everyone who helped him, especially the medical staff at Harborview.

"With the extent of the injury, it's a miracle I made it through," he said.

Chelminiak was elected to the Bellevue City Council in 2003. He previously worked for both the King and Snohomish county councils and once worked as a reporter and manager at KIRO radio in Seattle.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Survivor recalls ‘horrendous fight’ with bear

  1. Transcript of: Survivor recalls ‘horrendous fight’ with bear

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: The survivor of a vicious black bear attack in Washington state is speaking out for the first time about the incredible encounter that nearly killed him. NBC 's Lee Cowan has his story. Lee , good morning.

    LEE COWAN reporting: Morning, Meredith . Yeah, few people survive the kind of bear attack and mauling that this man did. He describes it essentially as a wrestling match between himself and a brown bear . Somehow he came out on top, but just barely. He's been through five surgeries, lost his left eye, and has teeth marks from head to toe, but that's considered a victory if you're in a battle with a black bear .

    Mr. JOHN CHELMINIAK: I need to get a T-shirt that says, "I won."

    COWAN: The attack happened while John Chelminiak was taking his dogs for a walk near Lake Wenatchee in central Washington last month. All he heard was the sound of bear claws on the pavement and then hot breath.

    Mr. CHELMINIAK: We hit, we went down. I got back up, she got back on top of me. I was trying to push her aside.

    COWAN: The 911 call is chilling.

    Unidentified 911 Operator: Nine-one-one, what's the location of your emergency?

    Ms. LYNN SEMLER (Wife): I'm at North Shore Road and my husband's been attacked by a bear.

    911 Operator: Your husband's been attacked by a bear?

    Mr. CHELMINIAK: I'm dying!

    Ms. SEMLER: He said he's dying!

    Ms. SEMLER: I know that he thought maybe he was going...

    Mr. CHELMINIAK: Yeah.

    Ms. SEMLER: ...but I wasn't ready for that.

    COWAN: But when paramedics arrived, it didn't look good.

    Dr. MATTHEW KLEIN (Plastic Surgeon): He had -- several parts of his face and scalp were hanging off with areas of bone exposed.

    COWAN: Somehow, John stayed conscious throughout the attack, and what he remembers is unsettling at best.

    Mr. CHELMINIAK: I just vividly remember being bitten on the head and the sound that that makes as it was -- as her -- as her teeth were going into my head and running along the skull. It was just a horrendous fight.

    COWAN: His only chance, he thought, was to keep the bear behind him.

    Mr. CHELMINIAK: I felt that if I went down on the ground and I got turned over on my back and she had a chance to go for either a neck or the abdomen, that I was probably dead.

    COWAN: John doesn't know why the bear stopped her attack. Authorities who later tracked her down and killed her said she was old and malnourished. Whatever the reason, the tranquility of that vacation house hasn't been marred. In fact, John says, he can't wait to get back. And, Meredith , he's got at least three more surgeries that are scheduled, most having to do with those skin grafts to his scalp. But if everything goes as planned, doctors say he could be going home as early as next week. Meredith :


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