Arizonan Chris Whitehill had planned to pop the question to Amber Harris on a picturesque land bridge at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming last week. But just 12 hours into their vacation, a brutal encounter with a hotheaded bison landed Harris in the hospital with multiple vertebral fractures and collapsed lungs.
Undaunted, Whitehill proposed to Harris from her bedside with a beautiful emerald-cut diamond in a halo setting.
"So my love got down on one knee beside my hospital bed last night and formally asked me to be his wife," Harris captioned a Facebook post, which included a close-up of her new engagement ring. "Without any hesitation, I said 'yes.'"
Whitehill had planned to propose to Harris on Wednesday, July 19, which would have marked the three-year anniversary of their first date. But they never made it to the park's natural land bridge that rises 51 feet above Bridge Creek.
On Monday morning, they had gotten coffee at the lodge and then decided to stroll through a field to Yellowstone Lake. They were about halfway to the lake when they encountered 20 elk and two bisons. One of the bisons was acting strange.
“We stopped and looked at the massive beast, about 50 yards away on the trail, hidden at first in the shadows of the trees,” Harris told Phoenix-based TV station KTVK. “We watched him drop and roll in the dirt, like a dog would. He got up on his feet and started walking, then running, toward us.”
Whitehill screamed to distract the animal, but the bison hit his fiancée "square on, with his head right in her abdomen area. And I looked up and he launched her into the air about 8 to 10 feet."
“When it’s someone you love and you witness something so tragic like that, you feel helpless,” Whitehill told KTVK.
Harris was airlifted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where she was treated for multiple injuries.
She wrote on Facebook, "pain meds, CT, MRI and I sustained 7 spine fractures, bilateral collapsed lungs and bruising all over. Glory to God all my vital organs look good.”
Bison attacks at Yellowstone National Park are rare, but not unheard of, especially during mating season, which runs from late July through August. The last bison attack at the park occurred about a year ago.
Bisons are the largest land animals in North American, and males (called bulls) can weigh more than 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall. What's more, they are unpredictable and fast — really fast. Bisons have been clocked at 35 MPH, significantly faster than sprinter Usain Bolt in his prime (27.3 MPH). The National Park Service advises Yellowstone visitors stay at least 25 yards away from bisons, but an aggressive male can make up that ground in a hurry.
Bisons nearly became extinct during the last century, but conservation efforts have helped save the species. The National Park Service claims Yellowstone is now home to 6,000 bisons.
Whitehill established a GoFundMe page to help pay for his fiancée's medical expenses.
"Medical bills have started to pile up," Whitehill wrote. "Anything helps at this point. Amber is a beautiful person inside and out and cherished by all."
In a followup post, Whitehill noted that, while no surgery is needed, Harris does have to wear a back brace to keep her spine immobilized.
"Many thanks for your prayers and generous donations," he wrote. "Amber and I are very grateful."
Credits: Ring photo via Amber Harris/Facebook. Couple photo via GoFundMe.com. Bison photo by Jack Dykinga, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Public Domain.