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Bitten by bear and health care

Survivor on hook for airlift costs

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Erin Greene was attacked by a polar bear in Churchill Nov. 1.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Erin Greene was attacked by a polar bear in Churchill Nov. 1. Photo Store

Erin Greene survived an attack by a polar bear last month in Churchill, but the 30-year-old Montreal woman has found out there's a price tag attached.

Greene was airlifted from Churchill to Winnipeg after she was attacked by the bear on Nov. 1. She was suffering from serious wounds to the back of her head, ear, arms and body.

Friends put on a fundraising event Thursday night at the Pyramid Cabaret to help her pay for the air ambulance ride from Churchill, which will cost more than $10,000, and three ground ambulance rides. She hasn't received all the bills yet.

"I think it's pretty miraculous that I am still here," said Greene, who has one bill of $633 for just the ambulance ride from Winnipeg's airport to the Health Sciences Centre.

'I think it's pretty miraculous that I am still here'

-- Erin Greene survived an attack by a polar bear

She said she feels "incredibly lucky" she lived through the harrowing ordeal, which only ended when 69-year-old Bill Ayotte ran out of his house and bashed the bear with a shovel, saving Greene's life by having the bear turn on him. Then Ayotte's neighbour, Didier Foubert-Allen, 18, saved Ayotte by shooting at the bear and driving his truck toward it while blasting the horn and flashing the headlights until it ran off.

"I'm still in shock that somebody would risk their life like that for someone else, just for a life," she said of Ayotte, who was also hospitalized and is recovering.

"Bill, he didn't know who I was, he had no connection to me. I was just another human being that he thought was valuable enough to risk his own life for."

A seasonal employee at a restaurant in Churchill, Greene is a Quebec resident, which is why her medical expenses are not fully covered. Manitoba residents airlifted from Churchill to Winnipeg for medical care would not be billed for air ambulance trips.

A spokeswoman from Manitoba Health confirmed Greene must pay for all transportation costs, but a reciprocal agreement between Manitoba and Quebec will cover her hospital stay and care. She can submit any out-of-hospital bills to Quebec for reimbursement.

"I'm just so grateful people are doing this for me. I have my life, my friends and family and to not have not have to worry about all the medical expenses, I was really stressed out about it, so it's a great relief," she said.

Greene was being walked home by friends after a Halloween party when "the bear just came out of nowhere," she said. "One of my girlfriends said 'Oh my God, guys, there's a bear.' And this 400-pound bear was charging right at us."

It appeared to target her, Greene said, as it tore through the snow at her as she tried to run away. It ignored one of her friends who fell down nearby.

"It pounced on me and started ripping away at my head and biting and scratching," she said. "I definitely was trying to fight it off. At the beginning, when it was biting my head, I kept trying to punch it because their snouts are really sensitive, so if ever you're in a situation, you want to try to get them in the snout. Once it let me go the first time, I tried to bring my arms up over my head to make the surface area wider so he couldn't get my head again."

She said Ayotte told her when he heard her screams and came out of his house to help her, she was "two feet off the ground, in the bear's mouth." She doesn't remember that part.

"I remember hearing my voices and then not hearing them anymore and thinking, 'That's it. It's just me and the bear; no one is coming, no one is around. This is how I die.' Then all of sudden, I heard something. I imagine it was Bill's voice, and then the bear wasn't attacking me anymore," she said. "I just assumed he would have a gun or something, not a shovel. It was brilliant. If that bear had another couple of seconds with me, it could have been all over."

She was able to run into the open door of Ayotte's house, where she called 911. The bear's teeth punctured her shoulder, the front of her arm, her head was stitched and stapled, she had blood transfusions, plastic surgery on her ear, stitches on her knee and ear and bruising all over her body.

She said she plans to return to Churchill next year to work at the restaurant.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 A2

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