Lion attack victim heading home 

Jim Hamm was supposed to spend his 50th wedding anniversary in New Zealand.

Instead, Hamm was in the hospital fighting a deadly flesh-eating bacterial infection after being mauled by a mountain lion.

Just three weeks after the Jan. 24 encounter, Hamm is expected to be released today, Valentine’s Day, from California Pacific Medical Center, alongside his wife, Nell.

"Jim is doing so well," Nell Hamm, 65, said. "He’s gaining strength by the minute."

Doctors expect Jim Hamm, 70, to take about a year to fully recover from injuries he sustained while hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, near Eureka. Hamm has undergone multiple surgeries, which included a microvascular transplant that used back muscle to replace an 8-inch-by-6-inch piece of missing scalp.

"The surgery went very well," said Dr. Rudy Buntic, who has been monitoring Hamm’s progress. "He had some ups and downs. He’s had steady improvement."

The incident — described as feeling like it lasted "10 years" but spanning about five minutes — has received national attention.

During the Hamms’hike, the mountain lion, described as a young, 70-pound female, crept behind Jim Hamm and clamped its jaws around his head. Without hesitation, Nell Hamm "subconsciously" grabbed a 3-foot-long log on the ground and started hitting the animal as her husband struggled. As she continued shouting and waving the log at the cat, it turned and walked away.

Shortly after the incident, the Department of Fish and Game tracked down and killed two mountain lions, one of which had human blood on its claws.

Recently, Jim Hamm has been able to walk laps through the hospital corridor. His wife said she doesn’t know when or if they will hike again, but she added that the first step is to see her husband released from the hospital.

bfoley@examiner.com

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