(AP) — A Montana man who was mauled by a grizzly bear that bit off the front of his lower jaw is ready to return home after five weeks in a Utah hospital, a physician and his family said Friday during a news conference.
Rudy Noorlander, who answered most questions at the University of Utah hospital by writing on a white board, is looking forward to having a root beer float, reuniting with his Yorkshire terrier Sully, returning to the outdoors and maybe even being able to attend the rivalry football game next month between the Montana Grizzlies and his beloved Montana State Bobcats.
“And he’s developed a whole new hatred toward the University of Montana,” his daughter Katelynn Noorlander Davis said, referring to the team’s mascot.
Noorlander can speak briefly, but it hurts “a little,” he said. He will need speech therapy, his surgeon, Dr. Hilary McCrary said.
Noorlander didn’t want to take questions about the attack because he wants to tell the story himself and write a book. And he’d like to have actor Cole Hauser from the “Yellowstone” television series play his character in the movie adaptation.
Noorlander’s adult daughters — Ashley Noorlander and Davis — sat on either side of him during the news conference, recounting the ups and downs of the past five weeks.
Davis read a statement her father wrote, thanking people for the support, love, prayers and kindness he’s received from friends and strangers.
“I truly feel blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people,” Davis said, reading her father’s statement. “I also want to say that the first root beer float is going to taste so amazing and soon I’m going to be a free-range chicken and won’t be hooked up to anything.”
The family is hoping he’ll be able to return home on Monday.
Noorlander was attacked by a grizzly bear on Sept. 8 after joining two people to look for a deer they had shot and wounded. The bear came upon him so quickly, he did not have time to deploy bear spray and his gun misfired, according to reports at the time.
The attack happened south of Big Sky, a popular resort area about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Yellowstone National Park, where Noorlander has a business renting out all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. It took several hours for him to be removed from the area via helicopter. He was taken to the hospital in Bozeman, where he underwent a tracheostomy to create an airway through his trachea, McCrary said. Then he was flown to the hospital in Utah.
Noorlander’s jaw and lower lip were reconstructed during a 10-hour operation on Sept. 28 using a portion of his lower leg bone and transplanted skin, said McCrary. He also got dental implants during that surgery.
McCrary said she was amazed by Noorlander’s determination to recover when she met him the day after the attack.
“He was very adamant that he was going to fight this thing and get through it. And at that point, he was still on a ventilator and had a chest tube and lots of lines everywhere,” McCrary said.
Noorlander wrote that his family and life motivated him to keep fighting and, showing his sense of humor, added “I will win Round 2,” with the bear.
Noorlander was asked why he wanted to share his story.
“Only by the hands of God am I here,” Noorlander wrote. “Believe it or not, I believe that this attack was an answer to my prayers and that potentially it could help somebody else going through something similar.”
He said he was also glad it was him that was attacked, rather than four older hikers he saw on the same trail that day.
Noorlander still has a small wound under his chin that will need to heal and doctors are working on getting him ready to eat without risking infection, McCrary said.
“And maybe if he’s really lucky, we’ll have a root beer float waiting for you in the room,” she told Noorlander.