When Bridger Walker jumped in front of a German shepherd last year to protect his little sister from an attack, the world hailed him as a hero.
But Bridger, who was 6 at the time and needed 90 stitches to repair the damage to his face, simply reasoned his actions with: “If anyone had to die, I thought it should be me.”
Now, a year later, Bridger’s father, Robert Walker, tells PEOPLE that his son still stands by those words.
“My wife and I asked him, ‘Do you want it to go away?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want it to go away completely,’” says the father of five. “Bridger sees her scar as something to be proud of, but he also doesn’t see it as representative of his brave act. He just perceives it as, “I was a brother and that’s what brothers do.” It is a reminder that his sister was not hurt and that she is okay.”
“Sometimes it almost bothers him when they call him a hero, because [he thinks], ‘Maybe I could have done more to protect her,’” he adds sweetly of his now 7-year-old son.
Bridger Walker and his sister. Robert Walker
It’s that selfless attitude that captured the hearts of millions of people around the world last July after Bridger, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, sprang into action to save her sister.
When her aunt, Nikki Walker, posted about the incident on Instagram, the incredible story went viral, with stars from across Hollywood including the cast of The Avengers, Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) and Brie Larson ( Captain Marvel). – everyone taking the time to praise the child.
It wasn’t just the celebrities. Strangers from around the world who heard about Bridger’s story also wrote letters to the little boy and sent him meaningful gifts to show their support.
“It was certainly unexpected when everything went viral,” Robert says. “It’s not something we would ever want to relive, but the light certainly eclipsed the darkness in exponential degrees.”
“Chris Evans, his video was amazing and he sent the shield. “Bridger couldn’t have been more delighted,” he continues. “When he spoke to Tom Holland, he was probably more amazed because it was a live call, so he certainly left an impression… his emotional recovery was truly a global effort and that was very special to us.”
Some of the care Bridger got came from New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, who offered to fly him to his office and provide treatment for free.
“It gave us a lot of hope,” recalls Robert, who says he had just emerged from a disappointing consultation with another doctor who told him Bridger’s scars couldn’t be treated for at least two years. “That was our first rainbow after all this.”
The Walkers accepted Bhanusali’s offer and flew to New York, where Bridger underwent two laser procedures. When traveling across the country became complicated amid the pandemic, Bridger began seeing Utah-based dermatologist Dr. Cory B. Maughan, who performed two more procedures.
Since then, they have all helped reduce Bridger’s scars and restore his smile and morale.
Bridger Walker and his sister. Robert Walker
“Within a year, Dr. Bhanusali and Dr. Maughan were able to heal the scars almost completely,” says Robert. “Our main concern when we got home from the hospital was, ‘Will he ever have a smile again or will he always look hurt?’ And now, seeing his smile brighten again, that was more than we could have hoped for. for.”
Bhanusali tells PEOPLE that while the treatments aren’t “the easiest for a little one to follow,” Bridger “took to it like a champ.”
“I probably felt more pain in my face than he did doing it,” the dermatologist jokes. “That boy is the bravest little boy I have ever met in my life. I don’t think people understood the level of injury he really was.”
“You want him to smile naturally like himself, not like a dull version of himself,” Bhanusali continues. “When we started seeing that, I think after the first treatment or shortly after, that was our victory… it was the best thing we ever did.”
Today, Bridger is waiting to see how the lower half of his scar reacts to the latest procedure before moving on to additional treatments, according to his father.
Although there is some redness and hardening of the subdermal scars that will be addressed, Robert and Bhanusali say everything looks promising.
“We still have a little more work to do on the superficial part of the redness, but structurally everything looks much better,” says Bhanusali. “I always told Robert, ‘When Bridger is in middle school or high school, I want this to be a story he tells, not a memory he has to relive every day.’ And I think we will have that situation.”
As Bridger continues to heal, Robert says he has found joy in watching his “brilliant boy” return to his normal self, “fun, sociable and full of life.”
Bridger Walker and his family. Shelbi Bailey Photography
Bhanusali has also witnessed it: “You can see his personality, you can see his happiness, his joy. When you can look him in the eyes, he is a different human being,” he says.
Robert also notes that he will always be grateful to the people who showed his family so much support over the past year.
“It was absolutely miraculous,” he says. “For thousands, if not millions, of people from around the world to approach a stranger they have never met because they are concerned about the well-being of a 6-year-old child in the middle of Wyoming… there is something special there.”
“I couldn’t be more grateful,” he adds. “And if there is a message in all this, it is that there are good people willing to do great things for a little one.”