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Nick's story

Bear attacks are rare, but they do happen


Page 10 of 11


Blessings Counted

I'm happy to report that Nick's attack did not turn him, or Mike, away from their love of the outdoors. Sometimes after nature has shown its violent side, it leaves a sense of bewildered pain; you love nature and respect it, and yet one night it tried to kill you. But time has healed many things.

As Nick has grown to be six-feet tall, (causing a certain amount of "who saved who?" jokes when he is with Mike) his scars and graft sites have grown with him since puncture wounds cannot be neatly stitched closed. When he was 16 years old I took him back to Dr. Laberge since the skin grafts were lying on top of now well-developed thigh muscles and looked like they might herniate. After an affectionate greeting between doctor and patient, she examined his many scars and said they were strong and not to worry, and that she could make some look a bit better with more surgery, something Nick wasn't remotely interested in.

When we left she gave Nick a big hug and said: "Go away Nick and forget you ever knew us."

How do you thank the professionals whose daily work ensures that life goes on? It's almost impossible.

But when Nick graduated from Lower Canada College at age 17 and was awarded the much coveted trophy for Most Outstanding Male Athlete in the graduating year, I sent Dr. Laberge a picture of her former patient and tried to express once again my deepest gratitude for her amazing skill in getting Nick to that place.

For Mike and for Michelle, many honours followed including special awards for their bravery and critical response. One came unexpectedly from the Andrew Carnegie Hero Foundation in New York, an amazing organization with a mandate to seek out those who risk their lives to save others and to recognize and reward them; and they found Mike's story.

On May 10, 1999, which was a Mother's Day, Nick and I had the great honour to be with Ray and Mary Hildebrand at Rideau Hall Ottawa, as their son Mike received the Medal of Bravery from the Governor General of Canada, Romeo LeBlanc.

This was a day of quiet pride for Mike's parents, but I have to say that when they opened the scroll that was presented and saw the Coat of Arms for Canada, and then the words "on Behalf of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the II," the tears welled up. I have always said to Mary that both of our sons survived that night, and I have no way of ever repaying Mike for what he did. There were seven other little boys on that campsite who needed saving, and if Mike and Michelle had saved all of them but had had to leave the one the bear got, could anyone have blamed them? Mike's response was that of a trained soldier, but he was no such thing. He was a 22-year-old university student with a summer job who risked his life in a sudden and violent emergency to save my son from a horrible death, and I am forever in his debt.