Woman fighting cancer survives bear mauling inside Lake Tahoe cabin
(CNN) — A California woman is recovering and says she feels lucky to be alive after being mauled by a black bear that broke into her Lake Tahoe cabin and rummaged through her kitchen.
Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzi was woken up early on October 30 by a series of thumping sounds downstairs in her family’s Tahoe Vista cabin.
At first she thought her son was being noisy, but as she came down the stairs she realized that there was a large bear rummaging in her freezer and throwing food on the ground.
It was still dark, but the bear was illuminated by the light from the freezer.
“About the time I recognized that he was a bear, he recognized, I guess, that I was a person and came charging at me,” the 66-year-old retired doctor told CNN.
Von Hoffmann-Curzi says she didn’t really see the bear charge because it all happened so fast.
“I remember seeing his big paw right on my face and basically nothing else,” she said. “And I started feeling my body being ripped apart.”
She said she was “screaming and screaming and screaming” as the bear attacked.
The bear came up the stairs at her a second time and von Hoffmann-Curzi says she threw a quilt and a robe that landed on its head and spooked the animal.
The bear came towards her a third time but ran out of the house when von Hoffman-Curzi’s husband and son came out of their rooms.
Her husband helped tend to her wounds while her son called 911. She says help arrived in less than 10 minutes and she was rushed to the hospital.
Von Hoffman-Curzi says her face hurt the worst and she was bleeding a lot. But she also had scratches and other wounds on her neck, back, arm and other parts of her body, along with a bite near her left breast.
There was also a deep puncture wound on her abdomen that she feared had ruptured her spleen, which she says would have been disastrous because she is going through chemotherapy for lymphoma.
Von Hoffman-Curzi was transferred to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento for more treatment. The surgeon there “did a spectacular job” stitching up her extensive facial injuries, she said.
Doctors gave von Hoffmann-Curzi antibiotics in hopes of preventing infections and abscesses, because she’s immunocompromised and because bears carry bacteria.
Von Hoffman-Curzi hopes she won’t need additional surgeries.
She lives in Orinda, California, in the Bay Area, and says she and her husband go to the cabin fairly regularly, because it’s one of the few places she can go outside of her home.
Her chemotherapy has made her very susceptible to Covid-19, so it hasn’t been safe for her to be out and about during the pandemic even though she’s vaccinated.
“The only reasons are doctors appointments and chemotherapy,” she said. “That’s my social life is going to chemotherapy.”
She says they won’t go back until this bear is caught.
“It would be dangerous for us because the bear knows the cabin, knows there’s food there, knows how to get in [and] is unafraid of people,” she said.
Capt. Patrick Foy with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says authorities have set up a trap at the cabin to try to catch the bear. They also took DNA samples from Von Hoffman-Curzi’s wounds and from inside the cabin.
The bear will have to be euthanized if they catch it, and they’ll use the DNA information to make sure they have the right one, Foy says. Any other bears they capture will be released in a safe location.
California black bears are the only type of bear that lives in the wild in California. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 live in the state. Adult females can weigh from 100 to 200 pounds and males are even bigger, between 150 and 350 pounds.
Foy says that many of the bears around Tahoe, which he described as an urban-rural interface, have become accustomed to humans.
“When you have bears that are breaking into homes, those are bears that are fairly habituated to these urban areas, and that’s the way they make a living really is by by pursuing human sources of food,” he said. “I don’t mean humans as a source of food, just human sources of food.”
He says this was the second bear attack on a human this year.
Von Hoffmann-Curzi says they had just gotten to the cabin on Friday night and hadn’t cooked or eaten any food, or generated any trash.
She thinks the bear may have smelled some avocados that they brought with them.
They didn’t lock their deadbolt that night, von Hoffman-Curzi says, and the bear was able to open the door with its paws.
“These bears are super-smart,” she said.
Foy recommended residents and visitors to the area go to keepmewild.org for tips on how to avoid negative encounters with bears and other wildlife. He said they get reports almost daily of bears getting into people’s homes or vehicles, getting into trash, busting open bird feeders and causing other property damage while hunting for food.
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