A hunter had his face nearly ripped off in a grizzly bear attack more than a year ago, while hunting elks in Wyoming with his friends. Recently, he opened up about his experience after having his face reconstructed in a ground-breaking surgery.

Lee Brooke, a native of Westfield, Pennsylvania, went on a hunting trip 2,000 miles west to Dubois, Wyoming early in October 2016, with his brother-in-law George Neal and two of their friends. Brooke had shot an elk, and when he went back for his kill the next day, he realized a bear had already begun feasting on it, the Telegraph reported. 

When he turned to leave, the female grizzly bear jumped on him and attacked his face. The hunter’s nose and moustache were torn off by the animal – a gruesome attack during which Brooke also lost consciousness briefly.

When he came to his senses, he found the grizzly towering over his body. Brooke recalled seeing his “nose and moustache laid out on the ground,” as his eyes pooled with his own blood, making his vision blurred.

Brooke said, “I should’ve bled to death right there,” Fox 31 Denver reported. “I should’ve at least drowned on my blood.” Nevertheless, the bear kept edging close to him. “I felt her sniffing my cheek. I felt her whiskers.”

Determined to not give up without a fight, Brooke pulled out a steak knife that was inside his pocket and stabbed the bear in the head.

“I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to stab her if I could see her,” Brooke said. “I had to lean in to stab her in the head. So I was this close to her nose.”

However, it only caused the animal to become angrier and it bit Brooke on the arm and struck him repeatedly before deciding to retreat into the forest. Brooke had to lay hurt and bloodied for an hour after the attack before a couple passing by the area spotted him and called for help. Eventually, Neal, who was unaware of the attack till then, rushed to the rescue after the couple called for help.

Discovering Brooke’s nose and moustache-lined upper lip lying on the ground, he picked it up and put it in his pocket for safe-keeping, before he called in the emergency services. Brooke was admitted to the Swedish Medical Center’s Burn and Reconstructive Unit in Englewood, Colorado, where he spent the next five months in a medically-induced coma.

Brooke also underwent extensive reconstructive surgery during the time. Doctors Benson Pulikkottil and Lily Daniali removed a fibula and a flap of skin from his leg, then used the bone and skin to rebuild his face. Although there is still time for his originally preserved nose to be re-attached to his face, Brooke said he was eternally grateful for the way the doctors treated him.

“They were so confident and compassionate and communicated really well back and forth,” said Brooke. “Everybody was phenomenal. They built me up and never let me down. They’re the best of the best.”