The last thing Dan Bigley saw was a bear attacking him after a day of fishing on the Kenai River in July 2003. He said it happened so quickly, he didn’t have time to react.

He arrived at the emergency room in a condition doctors described as “incompatible with life.”

“Basically every single bone in my head had not only been broken, but actually in some cases pulverized to powder, crushed, broken apart into many pieces,” he explained. “The only exception was my lower mandible. Five out of six arteries that carried blood to the scalp had been either lacerated or totally severed. The palate that holds the brain up into place had been broken apart into pieces. My brain had herniated down into my sinus cavity and was exposed to the outer world for about 12 days.”

Scan of Dan Bigley's face after the bear attack. Photo from

Scan of Dan Bigley’s face after the bear attack. Photo from “Beyond the Bear,” by Dan Bigley

But the survivor, who spoke to Alaskans Tuesday evening as part of the six-day International Conference on Bear Research and Management, said the lesson he wants people to walk away goes far beyond the attack.

“The more I engage in life, the bigger my life gets,” Bigley said. “And the bigger my life gets, the smaller my disability gets.”

He chose the life he has today, inspiring others, over bitterness.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this was a mama bear doing what mama bears do,” he explained. “I don’t hold any resentments, and continue to be active in bear country today.”

Bigley joined other bear experts from around the world who are sharing what they know with others this week.

Tre-C Dumais, operations manager at National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Alaska, demonstrated the proper way to deploy bear spray using cans of pressurized air and a fake wooden bear. She said it’s important to know how to use the product we all hope we never actually need.

There will be one more bear spray demonstration on Wednesday at the Delaney Park Strip near G Street at 5:30 p.m.

KTVA 11's Daniella Rivera can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.