Friends say Amber Kornak always wanted to work with bears.
Last week, a bear nearly killed her in a remote area in the Cabinet Mountains in northwestern Montana.
Kornak was in her first few days working as a a field assistant working on a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear project.
While she was out in the field on Thursday morning a bear came up from behind and attacked her, according to her friend, Jenna Hemer, who describes the bloody mauling on a GoFundMe page raising money for Kornak's medical bills.
As the bear attacked, Kornak managed to reach her bear spray and blasted the animal, hitting herself with the peppery spray, too, Hemer wrote on GoFundMe.
The bear took off.
At that point, Hemer wrote, "Amber's wildlife training skills kicked in."
With her skull fractured in two places and gashes on her neck, back and head, Kornak stayed calm and began walking.
She hiked two miles back to her work vehicle and drove out of the area.
Hemer has told her Facebook followers that Kornak was lucky to survive.
She was flown out the mountains on air ambulance to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, according to Montana Public Radio.
“It’s really a testament to the kind of person she is," Hemer told KTVQ in Billings. "She is so strong and so loving and so compassionate in everything she does.
"I think everybody feels that way, whether they’ve known her for years or known her for five minutes. It’s pretty evident that she is a strong woman and would do anything for anybody,"
Hemer wrote that Kornak underwent four hours of surgery to remove bone fragments and clean the wounds to her brain. "Metal plates and screws were placed on her skull and drains were placed in her brain to relieve brain swelling and drain fluid," Hemer wrote.
Kornak was in stable condition as of Monday, according to local media reports.
"Anyone who knows Amber knows that she is fierce, and will fight like hell to recover as quickly as possible," Hemer wrote.
An aggressive, defensive response from a grizzly bear almost always involves the bear being surprised at a close range while protecting its young or on a carcass, according to Bearsmart.com. Defensive attacks by black bears, typically females protecting cubs, are said to be more rare. Bear spray is the first line of defense in these situations, the website of the Get Bear Smart Society says.
Authorities who collected evidence at the scene of Kornak's attack don't know yet what type of bear attacked her, MPR reported.
An abundance of grizzlies and black bears live in northwest Montana and they're active now, a time of year wildlife officials urge people to be "bear aware," according to MPR.
Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Dillon Tabish would not say if Kornak was alone at the time of the attack, though Hemer says she was. Tabish said an investigation is ongoing and offered few other details about the attack, according to NBC Montana.