Man mauled by puma to have surgery in S.F. 

The 70-year-old man who was attacked and scalped by a mountain lion last Wednesday will undergo major surgery in San Francisco this morning to replace vital tissue he lost in the attack.

Jim Hamm was transferred Sunday to California Pacific Medical Center from Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata, 30 miles south of where he was attacked. He is fighting a deadly flesh-eating bacterial infection from the cat’s saliva.

"After monitoring his condition closely, we decided he was stable enough to move him on to a more specialized center," said Tom Ayotte, spokesman for Mad River Community Hospital.

Hamm, of Fortuna, is now in stable condition in the intensive care ward of the medical center, and according to his doctor, Rudy Buntic, most of the infection is gone. He will undergo a six-hour micro-vascular transplant today that will use a graft of muscle from his back to replace an 8-by-6-inch piece of tissue covering his scalp that he lost in the attack.

Buntic, a microvascular surgeon with a plastic surgery specialty, said he had experience with the procedure, but had never seen a case from a mountain lion attack.

During a press conference at California Pacific Medical Center on Tuesday, Buntic explained that muscle tissue has infection-fighting qualities and he was hopeful for a positive recovery.

"The statistical chance of us succeeding is about 98 percent," Buntic said.

According to Nell Hamm, Jim Hamm’s wife, the couple was hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Eureka on Jan. 24 when Jim heard "what sounded like a dog" approaching from behind them. Within seconds, the animal mauled Hamm as his wife embarked on the fight of their lives to save him.

"When I turned around, I saw Jim on the ground with his head in the lion’s jaws, I didn’t have time to think — I knew his life was in jeopardy. I had to get that cat off," Hamm said, recalling how she grabbed a nearby log and repeatedly hit the cougar.

The animal barely reacted to the clubbing, and Hamm then jabbed the lion in the eye with a ballpoint pen from her husband’s pocket. Desperate, Hamm then screamed and waved the log in her hands, recalling advice she once received from a park ranger. Miraculously, the cat then "slowly walked away" into the forest ferns and the couple walked to get help.

"I’m not willing to give him up. I fought like hell to keep him here and, in a way, we’re still fighting that cat," Hamm said of her husband’s injuries.

Nell Hamm said a female cougar with human blood in its claws thought to be responsible for the attack was later found and killed by the Department of Fish and Game.

According to the department’s Web site, there were 15 documented mountain lion attacks on humans in California from 1890 to 2006. Six of those attacks were fatal.

eeconomides@examiner.com

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