SANDY, Utah — Welcome home, Elder Wells.
Children did the advance work, excitedly running across, up and down the street to tie yellow ribbons to every tree, pole and mailbox.
Finally, after the energy and anticipation for his arrival continued to build for more than an hour, dozens of friends and family members gave Mason Wells a Mormon missionary homecoming to remember on Thursday afternoon, 37 days after two terrorist bombs seriously wounded him and three other missionaries at the Brussels airport.
They cheered as his father, Chad, pulled the family's dark grey Honda Pilot up to their home with Wells in the front passenger seat and his mother, Kymberley, in the back. They cheered again as he hopped away from the vehicle on his right foot and sat in a wheelchair, bandages around his left foot, right hand and several fingers.
"You guys have been so incredible, incredible to me and my family," Wells told more than 100 well-wishers, smiling broadly and wearing a University of Utah jacket. "I'm just really thankful for all the support. Love you guys!"
LDS missionaries traditionally enjoy emotional homecomings at airports or train stations after they complete their missions. When he left on his mission in August 2014, Wells expected his two-year assignment would end the same way this August.
Then terrorists changed his life.
Asked whether this was the homecoming he'd expected, he said, "No, I thought there'd be a lot less people."
Wells has been at University Hospital for more than four weeks, after a one-week stay at a Brussels hospital.
He still can't walk due to the injuries to his left foot. A thin, clear tube extended from his wrapped foot to a device on his hip. In fact, Chad Wells said his son will be hospitalized again to undergo additional surgical procedures.
Wells and his companion, Elder Joseph Dresden Empey, were zone leaders — leaders of a group of young missionaries — in Brussels when they and a senior missionary, Elder Richard Norby, 66, accompanied Sister Fanny Clain to the airport where the 20-year-old Frenchwoman was to catch a flight to Utah for the next leg of her mission assignment.
As the four stood together in a line on March 22, a suicide bomber detonated his device. The blast ripped an iPad from Wells' hand, blew the watch off his left wrist and swept the shoe off his left foot. A large piece of shrapnel ruptured his left Achilles tendon, broke his left heel and tore off a large patch of skin near those wounds. He also suffered second-degree burns to his face and hand.
The others suffered similar injuries.
Nine days ago, Wells underwent skin graft surgery in the burn center at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. Doctors removed skin from one of his thighs and grafted that skin to the wounds on his right hand and left ankle. The hand procedure went well, but Wells experienced complications with his ankle. He also experienced pain on his thigh where the skin was removed for the grafting.
The blasts knocked out Empey. When he woke up he found a dazed Wells standing in a pool of blood outside the airport doors, and Norby. Empey set Wells down on the sidewalk, where he recalled being covered in blood, much of it not his own.
Doctors released Empey from University Hospital on April 6, and he returned to his home in Santa Clara, Utah.
Clain was released from a Belgian hospital about 10 days ago. She is from Réunion Island, a French island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. She is expected to fly to Utah as early as next week to spend time at the Missionary Training Center in Provo before reporting to her assigned mission in Ohio.
Norby, 66, suffered the most serious wounds, including burns over 35 percent of his body, and he remains hospitalized at University Hospital.
After he left the hospital on Thursday, Wells was hungry. The family stopped for food at Wendy's, and Wells marveled at the broad American streets he hadn't seen for more than a year-and-half.
Neighbors and friends were cheered by Wells' positivity. Before his dad wheeled him up the steep driveway and walk to the front door, Wells pointed at all the yellow ribbons.
"Good luck taking all this down," he said to the crowd. Everyone laughed along with him, genuinely happy. Then he went inside, exhausted, and the crowd dispersed.
The ribbons stayed right where they were.
Contributing: Ladd Egan
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