Not every story has a happy ending. Fortunately for our family, this one does.
It was mid-July 2010 and Bryce, then 9 years old, had spent the day with Cub Scout Pack 166 of the Rogers Ward, Rogers Arkansas Stake, hiking and exploring Hobbs Recreation area. He was tired, but going up to the property with his dad in the evening was one of his favorite things to do. Besides, his dad (Barry D. Wall) would be using his "new to him" tractor and Bryce wanted a ride.
Barry had cut down some trees and wanted to get them moved so he could get a new road cut in. Bryce rode on the tractor until a chain was hooked around a large tree trunk, then he hopped off before his dad began pulling the tree up the hill.
Bryce turned from the tractor and walked a safe distance away. He heard the engine rev and when he turned back around he saw that the tractor had turned over and his dad was trapped underneath the engine.
Shock gave way to stunned fear as he heard his father cry out in pain. He was alive, but was in a race for his life. Bryce ran to him. Smoke was pouring from both sides of the engine and the wheels were digging into the ground next to his dad's head as the tractor kept working, pulling on the log which had become stuck between two trees. It was a tug of war with his dad stuck in between.
Bryce ran to the van, which was parked in the clearing, and got the cell phone. He called 911 and headed back to the tractor. He told the 911 operator what had happened and went back to where Barry was and gave the phone to him. The engine was leaking fuel and boiling hot water mixed with fuel was leaking out of the 55 horse power engine onto Barry's legs, burning them while he lay pinned underneath. The ground was covered with fuel and the smell was so strong that it was hard to breathe. Smoke continued to billow out of the sides of the engine and Barry was afraid that unless the engine could be turned off, there was a real danger of fire. He asked Bryce to go to the other side of the tractor and try to turn the tractor off. Tires continued to kick up rocks and dirt as they dug into the dirt next to Barry's face. Bryce went to the other side, and crawled under the tractor, and tried to find the key to turn it off, but he could not find it. Barry told him to go get help.
After Bryce left, Barry's prayer became very specific. "I don't want to burn under this tractor. Please make the engine stop." It turned off.
Bryce ran to where neighbors lived about a quarter mile away and found a family at home. They had just returned from a funeral of a friend who died in a tractor accident and were shocked to find that another accident had just occurred. The neighbor brought a shovel, hoping to dig Barry out from under the tractor.
Meanwhile, Barry talked with 911 operators as he tried to remain calm as his crushed legs sustained serious thermal burns. The neighbor arrived shortly before the emergency crews did and realized that his shovel would not be enough to free Barry from the tractor.
Rescue teams arrived and attempted to lift the tractor off, it simply slid, grinding his legs into the rocky ground, so they stopped. They secured the tractor with blocks and used the jaws of life to slowly lift the overturned tractor.
Barry had called me and said, "The tractor turned over, I am pinned, please get help!" Tractor accidents never turn out well and as I drove to the property, I had to ask myself if I truly believed that families were forever and if he did not make it, would it be OK. The 15-minute drive seemed very long as I contemplated what I may have to face. I was scared but knew that we would still be a family, regardless of the outcome.
Emergency crews were working hard to free Barry as I arrived. I ran past a long line of volunteer vehicles and fire trucks to where I saw the tractor surrounded by fire fighters and my husband, pale and in pain, alive under the tractor.
I took his hand and was relieved to see that the only injuries appeared to involve his legs. It looked like he would survive.
They worked to free him and as he felt the pressure lift from his legs, he said, "Pull!" A fireman and I pulled him out from under the engine and they quickly prepared him for transport to the trauma center, which had been alerted.
Once an assessment was made, likely broken legs, crush injuries, multiple cuts and scrapes and burns, they realized that they would need to have more sophisticated equipment to begin treating him in transit. A new ambulance came and they moved him to the other unit. Bryce rode in front, I rode in back.
Both legs were very distorted and appeared to be broken — we all assumed that was the case. The burn was just beginning to appear and over the next few days we realized that it had burned all the way through several layers of muscle and skin and covered the back of one leg and left blisters splattered on the other leg.
The crush injury was more serious than we realized. Muscle tissue had been destroyed and the toxin released by the muscles had made his blood toxic and his kidneys had shut down. If not treated quickly, he would die.
Before getting x-rays, he received a priesthood blessing. When he came back from x-ray, the stake president had come to see him and Barry said, "My leg really burns, I think it is a bad burn, It hurts on the back." He bent his knee and I gasped, "Don't move — your leg is broken!"
I looked under the sheet at his legs and they did not look crooked any more. When the technician came to take him back to get cleaned up he said, "Nothing broken." We had witnessed a miracle.
Over the next week in the hospital, blood toxins were checked regularly, many bandages changed and swelling increased each day until it reached the point where they would need to make cuts in the muscles to let them swell. Then the swelling began to go down.
When kidney function became normal and swelling stopped, we knew that whatever else needed to be done to recover, Barry was out of the woods.
It took many visits to doctors, therapists, surgeons and wound care specialists to make Barry's legs work again.
The treatments took about four hours a day for several months, so healing became a part-time job. He did not drive for four months. Now Barry walks, has many scars from skin grafts and wounds, but he can walk, ride a bike and can jog slowly. Truly a miraculous recovery.
Now, a year later we look back and contemplate what happened and what might have been if Bryce had not been there and been prepared.
Bryce was presented the National Court of Honor Lifesaving and Meritorious Action Award for Heroism on Aug. 16, by the Scouting organization for his quick, calm thinking after Barry's accident.
The award was given to 149 young men in 2010. Since 1923, when the award was first presented, 3,230 young men have received the commendation.