ANCHORAGE - A man mauled by a grizzly bear last month married his longtime girlfriend, a health aide who helped keep him alive when he was rushed to her clinic in Shaktoolik.
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Shawn Evan, 32, married Lydia Jackson, 31, on Friday at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
Evan said thoughts of Jackson and their two young sons kept him alive during an agonizing skiff ride back to the village after the attack July 31. He was freezing because he'd lost so much blood. Muscle, skin and a crude splint were holding his shattered legs together below the knees.
"There was twice that my heart felt weird, different. I felt it slow down, like it was losing its pumping power," he said.
The couple has been together 10 years. Evan spent summers hunting and picking berries to supply food for his family and then permanently moved from California to the Inupiat village of 200.
Jackson had wanted to get married since she was pregnant with their first child, Ethan, now 7. A second son, Marcus, was born 18 months ago.
Evan's reluctance to propose disappeared at the hospital. Doctors told him he might lose a leg, but constant support from Lydia and others lifted his spirits. He knew it was time to take life seriously, starting with marriage, he said.
Evan and two hunting partners, Michael Rock, 23, and A.J. Nakarak, 17, had traveled far up the Shaktoolik River the night of July 31, preparing to hunt moose the next day.
The hunters were several miles from the village when they saw a bear swimming in the river. Rock and Nakarak wanted the bear's meat and claws, so they shot it with their rifles, Evan said.
The bear bolted out of the water and ran up a steep hill. The trio found bloody, wet tracks and followed the trail up the hill through willow patches. After walking about a mile, Evan spotted it 90 feet away. He fired his .475 magnum pistol, hitting the bear. It rolled down a hill end over end before crashing against willows, Evan said.
"We figured that would be it, but his head popped out of the willows," said Evan. "He came barreling down hill after me, really fast, I only got off one shot and I couldn't tell you where I hit it."
Evan turned to run but the bear's powerful jaws crushed his right calf. He isn't sure how his left leg was injured.
His hunting partners on either side of the bear "were shooting away" with their rifles until the bear died, he said. He believes a bullet went through the bear and shattered the bones in his left leg. Bullet fragments were later found in that leg.
The pain was devastating, said Evan. "It felt like my legs were on fire."
Rock pried the dead bear's mouth off Evan's leg. Both feet were askew.
"I knew I was in deep trouble. I'm screaming, praying, asking how could this could happen, trying to vent my pain," Evan said.
His partners tied off Evan's legs below the knees to stop the bleeding. They fashioned a splint by strapping his legs to a branch and dragged him down the steep slope to the boat.
"All I could think about at this time was my sons, two boys, and my fiancee," he said. "That's what gave me the strength to keep going."
When they reached the Shaktoolik, villagers rushed him to the clinic in a truck bed.
Evan remembers Jackson being calm. She slid intravenous needles into Evan's arms to replace lost fluid. She cut off his blood-soaked jeans and rubber boots. Blood gushed to the floor.
As he moaned, she cleaned his splintered bones and set them back in place as best she could with a proper splint.
"Everyone thought I would panic but I didn't," Lydia said. "I knew if we didn't stabilize him and get him to a hospital quickly, he wouldn't be with us today."
Evan had lost several pints of blood, Lydia said. Medics from Nome brought two pints and flew him to Anchorage.
Doctors needed several surgeries over two weeks to screw and pin his bones back together. On the right side, where the bear bit him, doctors replaced bone with cement fragments, Lydia said. Early last week, after talking with family and Lydia's parents, Evan asked her to marry him.
"I said to myself, 'It's about time,"' she said.
He should be discharged sometime this week, once he can get around on crutches. While he heals, the newlyweds plan to live in California to be near his mother. A sometimes-construction worker in Shaktoolik, Evan hopes to become a teacher, and pay for Lydia's medical school so she can become a doctor.
"No more wasting time," he said.
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