A 69-year-old man from Canada is being hailed as a hero after he risked his life to save a woman who was being viciously attacked by a polar bear.
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Bill Ayotte was sitting on his couch watching television at his home in Churchill, Manitoba early one morning when he suddenly heard petrifying screams coming from outside. When he ran to see what was happening, he was stunned to come upon a woman being mauled by a polar bear.
“A bear had a woman by the head and was wagging her around in the air,” he recounted to The Star.
Ayotte thought briefly about calling the local polar bear patrol, but he knew the woman would be dead by the time he got there. That’s when he realized that he needed to take action himself if he was going to save this stranger’s life.
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Wearing only a sweater and some pajama bottoms, Ayotte grabbed his shovel, ran outside, and attacked the bear.
“Once I grabbed the shovel, I was pretty well committed to doing something,” he said. “So down the stairs I went, heading towards them thinking, can I do anything?”
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Erin Greene, who was the woman being attacked by the bear, thought she was in her final moments of life.
“I just became very weak because I was losing a lot of blood and I’d come to terms with the fact that this was going to be how I died,” she recalled. “If that bear had a minute more, 30 seconds more, if Bill hadn’t come out, I wouldn’t be here.”
Seeing an opening, Ayotte managed to hit the bear hard with his shovel right between the eyes. This caused the animal to finally release Greene, who immediately ran towards shelter.
Ayotte tried to follow her, but the enraged bear stopped him by grabbing onto his leg.
“Then the mauling was on for me,” the elderly man said.
Seconds later, Ayotte could hear his right ear being ripped off.
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“A bear’s got a lot of teeth,” he said. “A little ear isn’t going to stop him. Then I thought, ‘Where is that son-of-a-bitch going to bite me next?’ He’s starting to eat.”
Ayotte was convinced the bear would kill him, and he is sure the only thing that saved him was that he was on his stomach. Had he been laying on his back, he believes the bear would have gone to town on his ribs and internal organs.
A neighbor was finally able to get the polar bear to go away by driving at him and honking his horn.
“I was on the ground and all I can remember is feeling how really cold I was,” Ayotte remembered. “I’m not sure I said anything but if I did utter words, I would have said ‘I don’t want to die on the street like an animal. I’m cold. Get me off the ground. Get me on my feet. I want to die on my feet like a man.’”
As he was loaded into a truck, all Ayotte wanted to know was if Greene was alright.
“I wanted to know she was all right before I died,” he explained.
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Ayotte and Greene were each rushed to the hospital, where they were eventually stabilized.
“When I woke up, I was surprised I was alive and I was still wondering about the woman and whether she’d made it or not. The nurse said that woman is in the room right next to you,” recalled Ayotte. “Around 7 or 8 that night, they discharged her to a friend that lived in Winnipeg. They came over to my room and thanked me for saving her life.”
“Heroes don’t have to look a certain way,” said Greene, who describes Ayotte as “an angel in disguise.”
“When we think about bravery and people who have courage, there’s also a huge element of softness and compassion that has to be there in order for somebody to make that move,” she said. “If you don’t have that compassion for another human being then you’re not going to put your life at risk.”
Ayotte, however, sees his actions that day as “involuntary.”
“When you’re confronted with something like this, either you do something or you don’t,” he explained. “I didn’t expect that I would do anything but I couldn’t just sit by.”
A plastic surgeon was able to sew Ayotte’s ear back on, and conservation officers later killed the polar bear. These days, he lives what he called “a simple life” with his wife, but he keeps the shovel on his porch, should a polar bear try to attack again.
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“They don’t bother me,” he said of polar bears. “As long as they’re at a distance.”
This piece originally appeared in UpliftingToday.com and is used by permission.
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