Photo: Diana Koenigsberg
July, 22, 2008, was just another day for Allena Hansen. She'd gone with her two dogs to an area on her 70-acre property in the mountains outside Bakersfield, California, where she was putting in a vineyard. A single mother of one college-age son, Allena is used to doing things on her own. But this day, as she emerged from a well she was working on, she startled a black bear. In the nanosecond before either of them moved, Allena remembers thinking, "Uh-oh."
The next instant, the bear was on her. "I heard chomp, chomp, chomp," she says. "I felt it bite through my skull. I heard kind of a squishy, crunchy pop. I went, "There goes my eye." Then it got hold of my face, and I could feel it tearing off." One of the worst moments was "watching that little bugger spit my teeth out."
Though she was all of 100 pounds, Allena managed to dig her thumb into the bear's eye, causing it to loosen its grip. Right then, one of her dogs—a huge mastiff, prophetically named Decoy—lunged for the animal. "I remember thinking that if my dog was willing to offer his life to save me, the least I could do was try to live," she says.
Managing to free herself, Allena stumbled down a brush-covered trail for half a mile to her truck; Decoy had already made it there and was waiting for her. As she got in and started the ignition, she caught sight of her face in the rearview mirror. "I was surprised to see I was still wearing my white baseball cap—it was askew and bloody, but amazingly, it was still on," she says. "Then I realized that cap was my scalp." She gave herself two seconds to take in the information and then decided, "That's enough." How she drove the few miles to the mountain fire station, she doesn't know. When she climbed out of the truck, several firefighters rushed to her aid and kept her from going into shock while they called for a helicopter to take her the 123 miles to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center emergency department.
"One of the firemen is holding me up from behind so I don't fall down and aspirate my own blood, and he's going, 'You're doing great, just hang on.' I'm like, 'No, I'm not, we both know I'm not, so just go easy on yourself, okay?' The guy was so grateful for being able to laugh," Allena says.
At UCLA, doctors operated for six hours, and though they were able to save her face and eye, Allena would never look the same. Whatever shock she felt at first seeing herself after surgery, however, was offset by her happiness to be alive. Since then Allena has considered further surgery but is wavering. "The Jim Lehrer eye bag, yes, I want that gone," she says, pointing to the gathering of skin underneath her right eye. "But the scar from the claw that shows I literally kissed a bear on his bear lips? These scars are hard-earned trophies for what I've been through; they are actually something I can be grateful for. I am proud of them. ... I can go talk to little girls and say, 'I'm still beautiful, even with these!'"
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