Lost hunter had stroke

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It wasn’t a case of “just being lost in the woods” that led Jerri Lynn Bielec to spend 18 hours in the woods near Red Level last Wednesday — it was a stroke.

Media reports, which were released on Christmas Eve, said the 43-year-old Crestview, Fla., resident left her son’s Red Level home shortly after 5 a.m. to go hunting and never returned home. However, 18 hours later she was discovered dehydrated and disoriented in a small green field about a mile and a half from where she entered the woods.

Bielec said the day was supposed to be an enjoyable pre-Christmas Eve hunting trip for the mother and son, but the hours between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. were anything but enjoyable.

“It was one of the scariest experiences of my life,” Bielec said. “I thought I was dying.”

She said she started the day excited about the prospect of spending time with her son.

“He was supposed to meet me around 10 a.m. and we were going to go hunt and go walking in the woods together,” she said. “I was where I was supposed to go hunt. The truck didn’t get stuck, but I knew it couldn’t go any further, so I left it and decided to walk the rest of the way to the food plot.”

However, Bielec said she had only been to the spot twice before and walked past the trail leading to her intended hunting spot.

“I know now that I came up on another food plot,” she said. “It was getting daylight so I stopped. What I didn’t know was that I had crossed onto someone other person’s property.”

About 9 a.m., Bielec said she began to feel “funny” and had a convulsion.

“So I laid back on the grass; I thought it would stop,” she said. “I guess I passed out.”

When she awoke hours later, “my head and neck hurt bad,” she said.

“I fought for two or three hours to stand up, to get my feet underneath me,” she said. “It exhausted me and I fell back asleep a second time.”

It was during this time when sheriff’s deputies, Sheriff’s Posse members and reserve officers, along with area volunteers and representatives from the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, launched a full-fledged search and rescue mission.

The next time Bielec awoke, it was dark and she was “thirsting to death.”

“When I woke up, I noticed the helicopters,” she said. “I thought they were from Ft. Rucker doing their thing. I also noticed what looked like a small pond in front of me. I was thirsting to death, so I let go of my shotgun and started pulling the grass with my hands, trying to drag myself to the pond.”

She got about 15 feet before exhaustion overtook her. Again she saw the helicopter.

“I was so out of my mind by then. I guess the helicopter scared me and I rolled into the wood line,” she said. “That’s when I came to my senses and realized, ‘Hey. They’re looking for me.’”

Bielec said she rolled back into the food plot and was able to sit up and flag down the helicopter.

“Those people — those wonderful people who came to help me — they saved me,” she said. “I can’t tell you how thankful I was to see them.”

Bielec was taken to Andalusia Regional Hospital and was treated for anemia and pneumonia; however, after a four-day stay in the hospital, her Crestview, Fla., doctor has determined Bielec’s ordeal can be attributed to a small stroke.

“(The doctor) said, believe it or not, that the stroke was a wake up call,” she said. “It actually saved my life — that and the ‘Team Real Tree’ camouflage insulated suit I was wearing and (rescue personnel) finding me — because it was a sign something more serious is going on.”

While Bielec’s official diagnosis isn’t concrete yet, she remains thankful to everyone from the rescue personnel and law enforcement to the doctors at ARH who helped her home.

“We’re doing some more tests to figure out what’s exactly going on,” she said. “It was a horrible way to spend Christmas, but I’m alive and that’s what counts. And I couldn’t be more thankful.”