Moab ranger: miracles saved my life

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MOAB -- After being left for dead, park ranger Brody Young was too badly wounded by multiple gunshots to walk back to his truck to radio for assistance.

Mustering all of his strength and determination, Young managed to slowly roll on his side, over and over, to reach his vehicle and call for help. The call that went out was the first of what Young considers to be many miracles on the night of Nov. 19.

"I'm alive," he said. "I won the fight and I'm alive. It's such a miracle."

Young, 34, a state parks law enforcement officer, was shot and critically wounded during a traffic stop west of Moab.

I'm alive. I won the fight and I'm alive. It's such a miracle.

–Brody Young

This week, Young and his wife Wendy discussed some of the details of that night, his ongoing recovery and the impact to his life. He said nothing seemed unusual that night in November when he found the parked, silver Pontiac in the Poison Spider trailhead parking lot.

"It was a routine stop," he explained.

The car belonged to Lance Leeroy Arellano, 40, who was sleeping in the vehicle until Young woke him. The ranger said he intended to direct Arellano to an area where he could camp.

Young grew suspicious when Arellano would not produce identification, and the vehicle had an expired registration. But until the first shot was fired, he said the incident was still "standard."

"I went to check on his history and background," Young said. "It was just the standard contact, and then he turned on me. When I went to head back to my truck, that's when he started shooting."

Young rolled back to his truck after the gunfight, radioed for help, and then waited.

"I was so happy when help arrived," he recalled. "You couldn't ask for a better crew of EMTs and doctors than the ones that were working that night."

Young was transported first to Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab and then to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo.

Young said he cannot discuss details of the altercation with Arellano because the investigation is ongoing. Young did say his training kicked in, and he's glad now that he spent countless hours outside of work practicing shooting.

"I had to shoot with my weak hand, which I trained for, and I was taught to shoot through a car -- that's what really helped me win the fight," he said. "Training was a big part of my survival."

As for Arellano and the ongoing search, Young said he only worried early on, when he still did not know what the end result was.

"I was worried about Wendy and the kids because I didn't know what had happened to the guy," he said. "I was wondering if they were safe."

Now -- although he said he cannot disclose any details -- Young is confident that Arellano no longer poses a threat.

"Personally, I don't think we need to worry about him," he said. "I know he was shot."

Young was shot nine times. Two of the rounds were stopped by his Kevlar vest. Six entered his body, two of which have been removed. The ninth bullet was stopped miraculously by something in Young's pocket.

"There was actually a bullet that my wallet stopped -- a credit card stopped it," Young said.

Though that bullet is still in evidence, Young said he will keep it by choice. "I'll get it back, and we'll frame that, definitely," he said.

Several other bullets from the shooting will be kept not as souvenirs, but by necessity.

"I still have four in me," Young said of the bullets that are too close to major organs or too deeply embedded to remove surgically. One bullet is still buried in his vertebrae, another in the lower lobe of his left lung, another behind his heart near the spine, and the last is in his pelvic bone.

"There's also lots of shrapnel in my left arm," he said.

Gunshot wounds caused damage to Young's heart, small intestine, colon, stomach, right kidney, liver, diaphragm and lung.

"It was basically every organ except for my spleen and bladder," Young said.

Among the many occurrences that Young and his family consider miracles was the formation of a blood clot in Young's heart, in the pericardial sac.

"Those kinds of clots in the pericardial sac usually kill you," Wendy Young said. "In Brody's case they kept the heart from bleeding out."

At St. Mary's, the trauma surgeon expressed amazement at Young's condition.

"They said he should have died on the helicopter," Wendy Young said.

The Youngs also see as miraculous the fact that Allen Memorial Hospital had an unusually high number of blood units on hand that night, all of which were used to save Brody Young.

"Statistically, I shouldn't be here," he said.

Young spent five weeks at St. Mary's, almost all of that time in intensive care. For the first three and a half weeks, he was completely unconscious.

"I had no idea how long I'd been there," he said. "But I knew what had happened to me."

Upon regaining consciousness, Young suffered both physically and emotionally from his injuries.

"I had a lot of anxiety, with all the tubes sticking out of me," he said. "It was very frustrating. I couldn't talk, couldn't really communicate."

Once Young left intensive care, his progress sped up dramatically. He underwent only a few days of physical therapy before being released from the hospital on Christmas Eve.

"The healing process has been a miracle," he said. "All the wounds have nearly healed, and it's just Band-Aids and a little gauze now."

With tears in his eyes, Young credited both his survival initially and his speedy recovery to his wife.

"Wendy takes such good care of me," he said "I think she's the real hero."

During his fleeting moments of consciousness in the first weeks of his hospital stay, Young said he thought often of his wife and children.

"Thinking of you and being with you and our kids is what kept me alive — see them grow up, and to grow old with you," he told his wife.

Having survived such a traumatic, violent experience, Young said he has a new perspective on life.

"It makes me want to be a better person," he said. "To do better, be better. There are so many more things I want to do with my life, good things to contribute to society."

Young said he hopes to continue contributing by returning to his old job in law enforcement in Utah State Parks, and he said he will use his experience to help others.

"I want to teach other officers what I went through and how to survive, how to win the fight and go home to their families," he said.

Doctors have said it will be at least a year before Young will be able to return to work full-time, but with a smile on his face, he said he thinks he can beat that.

"I'll give it six months," he said.

Until that time, Young will continue physical therapy, which he says he enjoys.

Despite all his wounds, the only permanent nerve damage Young sustained was in his right leg, where he experiences numbness.

Above all, Young said he is grateful to the countless people who have supported him and his family through the crisis.

"I don't want to name any names because there have been so many, but you know who you are," he said.

Wendy Young was told this sort of horrific event would make her lose her faith in humanity. "It's just the opposite," she said. "One person made a bad choice, but millions of people have come out of the woodwork to make good choices."

Brody and Wendy Young said they harbor no negative feelings towards Arellano, since they both have come away with a fresh outlook on life.

"It's been really positive," Brody Young said. "Now, I have more chapters to add to the book of my life."

Danny Chandler is a freelance writer for the Deseret News

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Danny Chandler for the Deseret News


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