Hiker moved to S.F. facility

January 29, 2007 11:00 pm

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Jim Hamm, the 70-year-old hiker recovering from a mountain lion attack, was airlifted from Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata to a larger facility in San Francisco where doctors could better monitor infections from his wounds.

Hamm entered California Pacific Medical Center in critical condition Sunday evening, said hospital spokesman Kevin McCormack.

A mountain lion attacked the Fortuna man on Jan. 24 as he walked Brown Creek Trail with his wife at about 3 p.m. in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Nell Hamm, 65, fought the cat with a tree branch until it eventually released her husband. The couple walked about a quarter of a mile to the trailhead, where park staff and a work crew called for an ambulance.

Hamm suffered deep cuts and tissue damage to his head, face, torso and arms.

"Significant puncture and tear wounds," said Tom Ayotte, director of strategic planning and safety at Mad River Community Hospital.

Besides many stitches to his face, Hamm underwent a skin graft surgery at the hospital to repair his scalp. Doctors also used intravenous antibiotics to ward off infection, along with a series of rabies shots as a precaution.

While the injuries compare to those suffered in a vehicle crash, they carry the added risk of infection, Ayotte said. Mountain lions' mouths carry many types of bacteria.

On Saturday, Hamm returned to Mad River Community Hospital's intensive care unit from its surgical unit. On Sunday, he was flown to the San Francisco facility that hosts specialists and subspecialists, Ayotte said.

"We try to be proactive with the patient," Ayotte said. "We knew that this was a possibility all along."

Bacteria from the lion's bites had entered Hamm's bloodstream, McCormack said.

After the attack, California wildlife officials tracked and killed two lions — a female that night and a male the next morning.

Autopsies and tests at a state wildlife investigation lab in Sacramento revealed human blood on the female's claws.

She did not have rabies and showed no signs of sickness or disease, said California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano. But tests seeking information on a reason for the rare attack on a human showed that the lion's stomach was empty.

The incident marks the first documented mountain lion attack on a person in Humboldt County and the first in Redwood National and State Parks. Del Norte County has logged no reported mountain lion attacks on a person.

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