'I Was Attacked by a Bear, This Is How I Survived'

My home in northern Maryland is located on a three-mile gravel road, two miles of which make up part of Gambrill State Park. The area is known to be home to several black bears, but I had been walking my dogs through the park for years without any issues.

In September 2020, I was returning from walking my usual route, when one of my two dogs sensed something ahead of us. I wasn't far away, around one hundred feet. I knew something was wrong immediately, because she barked and jumped up.

A large black bear emerged from the woods; and my only thought was: "I'm screwed." I couldn't run, because the animal would likely charge me down.

If you are confronted by a bear, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources recommends creating lots of noise. I had also heard it was good to try and make yourself appear bigger than you are. I did both, however when the animal started charging up the hill towards me, I knew it was a waste of my time.

Renee Levow
Renee Levow, 52, lives on the outskirts of Frederick Country, Maryland, where she encountered a bear in September 2020. Renee Levow/Getty Images

Coming face to face with a wild bear

As the bear approached, he swatted at my female dog twice. My dog tried to bite back, but the bear quickly focused its attention on me. Presumably, I was more interesting and perceived to be the bigger threat.

The bear was probably around 5' 9" and 200lbs. As it stood and proceeded towards me I saw everything; claws and teeth, and I heard the snarling. It was so close to my face I could have touched its nose.

The bear stood in my face. I looked at him, he looked at me and then he swatted at my chest and pushed me down to the ground. While I was on the ground, he bit me twice on my left leg, just above my knee. I was then tossed in a completely different direction and felt the bear bite the left side of my face and head. That's when I heard my skull crack.

During the attack, I didn't really have any thoughts. People often say that during near-death experiences your life flashes before your eyes, but I didn't have any of that. It all happened so fast, there wasn't a lot of time to really think about anything else.

Playing dead to escape the bear

The bear then bit me again on the right side of my face. At that point, I just thought: "I don't want to get bitten anymore." I was terrified, I didn't know what else to do, but I didn't want to hear the crunch of my bones again, because that had totally freaked me out.

I had been trying to fend the bear off and had his neck in my hands. But all I could think to do was to try and play dead. I had nothing else to lose, this bear was either going to keep chewing on me or leave me alone. So, I protected my head with my arms and I rolled over on my stomach to the ground, because I was literally pouring in blood at this point.

Quickly after I dropped to the ground, the bear sniffed my right ear and grumbled. Everything went silent. I laid with my face down on the ground for ten minutes without moving. I didn't even reach for my phone, I was that terrified that the bear could still be around.

When I eventually realized he was gone, I slowly reached down my body with my hands, got my phone out of my pocket and called 911. Within minutes, the chief of the local fire department was at my side. Fortunately, he lives about five minutes from my house, so he was able to come very quickly.

Renee Levow
Renee took around two years to make a full recovery. Renee Levow

Emergency services coming to my aid

I was sitting up when the fire chief arrived and was relieved to see him, but of course I didn't know what I looked like or the extent of my injuries.

He immediately started asking me questions; Was I okay? Was anything physically broken? He asked if I passed out and I told him I had not. At that point, I thought I was lucky.

I had a gash across my chest and very swollen, deep bite marks in my leg, which needed to be stitched up. The left side of my face, part of my ear and my scalp also needed stitches and the side of my cheek and face was lacerated. On the right side of my forehead, all the nerves across my eyebrow were severed and I had bite marks on my scalp and hairline.

Soon afterwards an ambulance came and I was taken to Meritus Hospital, which is about thirty minutes from where the accident occurred. I was looked over and had all sorts of scans done. Doctors decided to fly me to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore by helicopter to be treated.

I was going to be flown to the trauma unit of one of the nation's best hospitals, so I knew my injuries were pretty serious, but that I was going to be receiving the best care possible. After arriving, doctors assessed me and addressed my immediate injuries and a plastic surgeon spent four hours working on my scalp and face.

The worst part of the experience for me was having my wounds sutured. I had to be put under local anesthetic, so I could feel all of the injections they administered into my wounds in order to numb the area.

Recovering from the bear attack

I was released from The Johns Hopkins Hospital a day and a half later and within a few days I was mobile and walking around. I didn't look the prettiest but I was alive and I was grateful for that.

Because of the nerve damage, I took around two years to fully recover and for feeling in some parts of my face and scalp to return. It's still not 100 percent normal; I can feel those areas, but it's quite a strange sensation.

I now carry bear repellent spray every time I walk my dogs and would recommend anyone walking through areas known to have bears does the same thing. I encourage anyone walking through areas like these to make themselves loud; play music or sing. I now have bear bells, which are attached to the bag I carry my phone and bear spray in.

I am not free of fear, in fact I am quite terrified still. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the incident and had to have some treatment with a PTSD therapist so I could walk past the area I was attacked. I still have fear every time I walk through the area or other areas up where I have seen different bears in the past.

I believe it's important people are aware that nature is not always nice. Bears are wild animals like wolves, foxes or deer—while they are beautiful, any wildlife can be potentially dangerous if they feel threatened.

Renee Levow, 55, lives on the outskirts of Frederick Country, Maryland with her family and two German shepherds, Kylie and Bones.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Newsweek editor, Monica Greep.