Man who had his face torn off by a bear explains how he survived: ‘I had to dig the debris out of my airway’

A man who was left severely disfigured after a vicious bear attack has shared his incredible survival story in hopes it can help others who find themselves in a similar situation.

The attack happened in 2011 but 65-year-old Wes Perkins still bears the scars of a terrifying encounter with a grizzly beast in the Alaskan mountains. Interviewed by Youtuber Dannie Rose for a short film released last month, Mr Perkins, a former fire chief in the city of Nome, recounted the attack in detail.

Mr Perkins had been on a hunting trip with his friend Dan Stang and Stang’s son Edward. The trio was tracking a “nice size bear” and drove around the hill hoping to find it, but before they could hunt it, the animal emerged from a hole it had dug and surprised Mr Perkins.

The bear charged at Mr Perkins, causing him to lose his teeth, tongue and jaw, before it was subdued and eventually killed by Mr Stang and his son. To survive, Mr Perkins instinctively removed the mud from his fresh wounds and he was then airlifted to receive medical care.

“I basically kept my airway open and had to dig the debris out of my airway, when I lost my tongue, jaw and all but a few teeth,” Mr Perkins told Newsweek. “So telling myself to function and never close my eyes or go unconscious was the main concentration.”

Mr Stang said in the short documentary that the bear also tried to charge at him before his son joined him in firing shots at it.

Meanwhile, Mr Perkins remained aware of his surroundings and even managed to speak with his friends while they waited for assistance. As advised by Mr Stang, Mr Perkins buried his face in the snow to numb the pain.

Mr Stang then radioed for help, and it was Mr Perkins’ brother who answered the call and helped dispatch responders. When help arrived about an hour later, Mr Perkins was able to walk inside the helicopter himself.

He was initially taken to a hospital in Nome and then to Seattle.

Wes Perkins, 65, survived a bear attack in 2011 and now helps families of survivors to better navigate their journey to recovery (Dannie Rose Youtube channel)
Wes Perkins, 65, survived a bear attack in 2011 and now helps families of survivors to better navigate their journey to recovery (Dannie Rose Youtube channel)

“I have helped others my whole life, and never imagined that I would be on the receiving end of things, but the brotherhood of Nome, my brothers in the fire service, from Seattle, Anchorage, Nome, came out to support and fundraise for me and helped me through this recovery,” Mr Perkins told Newsweek.

Mr Perkins said in the film that he now helps families of bear attack victims to better understand and navigate the process to recovery.

“What I [am] able to do is let them know that it takes stages,” Mr Perkins says in the documentary about the family of a survivor who reached out to him. “If he’s alive now, he’s going to make it. And so, just to reaffirm that eventually, he’ll have somewhat of a normal life.”

Mr Perkins also said that while his own journey has not been easy, he continues to see improvements and reach milestones even a decade after the attack.

“I’m [now] able to swallow a full-size vitamin that I couldn’t swallow five months ago, I’d choke on it,” he added. “People who don’t see me but know me say, year after year, ‘Wow, you’re talking better’ ... I was lucky that I was able to learn how to talk again.”