The Alaskan Bush People's Greatest Trials: Mom Ami's Lung Cancer, Son Matt's Rehab, Bear Attacks, Injuries & More
Hard Life in Rural Alaska
Creating a home on an isolated island in rural Alaska hasn't been easy for Billy Brown, 64, his wife Ami, 53, and their sons Matt, 34, Bam, 32, Bear, 30, Gabe, 27, and Noah, 25, and daughters Bird, 22, and Rain, 14.
Their Home Burns Down
Before launching their Discovery reality series Alaskan Bush People in 2014, the family says their home was burned down by the Alaskan authorities for being on public land. "People don't want to let us live the way we want to live, even though we're not hurting anybody," Billy has told PEOPLE. Eventually, the family was able to build a two-story home (pictured) on their adopted homestead of Browntown. But not before more setbacks.
Their Boat Home Sinks
During the show's first season, the family's boat – which they were living on — sinks, leaving the family homeless once again. But still, the family found a way to persevere. "There's always a boat that sinks or a bear that gets in your house," Bill has said. "That's the way it is here. You build something, it gets destroyed, you build it back up. You persevere because you love it here. You want to stay. It's home."
A Bear Destroys Their Home
After creating Ami's "dream house," the family returned from a boating excursion in late 2015 to find their home had been ransacked by a bear. PEOPLE was with the family when they arrived in Browtown for the first time since the bear's break-in. "Well, the kitchen is destroyed," Ami remarked as she exited their two-story wooden home, constructed just the year before. Surveying the room, the family saw their personal items strewn across the floor and the front window smashed. Ami wiped her hands on her jacket and said with a sigh, "He didn't eat all the food, though. He was just curious."
Father and Son Face Jail Time
The stars were also sentenced to 40 hours community service and also received a fine, while all charges were dropped against the rest of the family. “Alaska’s dividend program has specific requirements for the length of time in the state, and the reasons for being out of Alaska.
Because of the way we live our lives and the way we often unconventionally travel, I didn’t keep good track of our movements,” Billy told PEOPLE in a statement. “I accept full responsibility for filing for benefits without confirming that we met the requirements. We are committed to living in Alaska for the long term and we respect the state’s rules. I thought it best to settle to put this behind us.”
Matt Heads to Rehab
“I could see myself spiraling,” Matt (with dad Billy) told PEOPLE in July 2016 after completing treatment for alcohol abuse.
He'd begun spending more and more time drinking with friends “in town” over the previous year and saw himself becoming "more withdrawn. I was slower. Things didn’t excite me the way they used to.”
“I started drinking lightly and then it got to be more and more,” he said. “That’s when I saw the problem around the corner, and I didn’t want to be one of those guys.”
Bam Leaves Home
In late 2016, Bam decided to strike out on his own for the sake of love.
“I felt like it was the right time to follow my heart,” he told PEOPLE of exploring the "lower 48" and falling "head over heels" for a city girl.
“She’s stirred something inside me and made my soul wake up,” Bam said of his new love, whose identity is being kept private for now.
Ami Is Diagnosed with Cancer
In the spring of 2017, most of the family relocated to Southern California as Ami underwent medical tests and was ultimately diagnosed with lung cancer.
“I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what you’ve been through. I don’t care how old you are. If you hear that your mother has cancer, it’s going to shock you,” Rain said after the diagnosis. “I just wish I could change it somehow. I’m very scared for her.”
Ami was ultimately told she'd need 12 weeks of intesive radiation and chemotherapy treatement and would have to be put on a feeding tube if she dropped 5 lbs. below her current 94 lbs.
“It’s one of those moments that should stop the world,” Matt said. “And then you look around and nobody told the planet that it shouldn’t be spinning anymore.”
Matt Suffers a Head Injury in Explosion
As the family prepared to pack up Browtown for good, Matt was left alone at the family's rural Alaska homestead while most of his other siblings remained in Southern California.
He was severly injured while attempting to detonate an improvised bear deterrent made of black powder. The on-site examination revealed a possible skull fracture. Fearing that swelling and loss of blood could cause severe trauma to the brain, paramedics ordered an immediate evacuation.
Matt was airlifted to a hospital in Juneau, where doctors used nine staples to close the wound on his scalp.
"The bears were really bad. I just got overly paranoid in the situation and took it a little too far," he said. ""The bush's rule one the moment you take your mind off everything is the one that it get you — and it got me."