A paramedic who is used to saving the lives of others found himself having to eat rotting beaver meat and fend off snarling animals to ensure his survival while trapped for 96 hours in Alberta bush country.
Ken Hildebrand of Fort McMurray was riding his all-terrain vehicle as he collected animal traps about 130 kilometres southwest of Calgary, on Jan. 8 when the ATV rolled after hitting a rock and trapped him underneath.
'It was time to get ready for survival mode.' —Ken Hildebrand
Hildebrand, who has a weak leg due to polio, ended up face down on the snowy ground with his machine pinning his strong leg.
"He was stuck there for four days and three nights — almost 96 hours straight," said Troy Linderman, director of Crowsnest Pass emergency medical services.
Hildebrand's injuries aren't described as life-threatening, but there is a chance his right foot might have to be amputated.
Hildebrand, who wouldn't give his age, said he kept himself alive — albeit sick — by eating the rotting meat of the animals he had collected.
He said he faced constant harassment from coyotes who were growling and fighting each other a short distance away, but was able to keep them at bay by constantly blowing a whistle he had with him.
"It was time to get ready for survival mode," Hildebrand said.
As a paramedic, he knew people start losing heat quickly from their upper body, so he took a beaver carcass and set it by his groin to help keep his body warm. He used another beaver as a bit of a windbreak and part of its skin as a makeshift pillow.
Beaver meat made paramedic sick
With no water or food with him, no snow close by and nothing but dirt around him, he quickly became dehydrated. He pulled some surveyor's tape through his teeth to get a little bit of the dew that dropped onto it.
"I ate a lot of dirt to get a little moisture," he said.
By the second night, he was so hungry he started to pick at the beaver bones an hour after the sun went down.
"I tried to eat pieces of that, but it made me sick and I threw up," Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand made several attempts to get out from under the ATV, including using an axe to pry it off, but he didn't have enough leverage to free his leg.
As Hildebrand was entering his fourth day of being trapped, he began to accept the fact he might not be found before the cold, malnourishment or animals claimed him. His saving grace came when a hiker and a dog from Pincher Creek found him.
Treated for frostbite, dehydration, leg injuries
"He was hiking and he came there because he told me he had this funny intuition and urge to go hiking there even though he'd never been there before," Hildebrand said.
After spending a night in the Crowsnest Pass hospital, he was transferred to Lethbridge, where he has undergone several operations to treat frostbite and injuries to his legs.
Despite hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and leg injuries, Hildebrand's only concern after being rescued was not being able to make his next paramedic shift, Linderman said.
Hildebrand, who works teaching first aid and heavy equipment at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, said he still has property in the Crowsnest Pass and was there seeing if he could help ranchers with the problem of wolves preying on cattle.