The story of how I got these scars is one that I never thought I would experience in my lifetime. Things like this usually happen to other people, not to you. And so, becoming an amputee was the last thing I had envisioned. It all started when I was young. Ever since I can remember, I had an obsession, not an interest, but an obsession with fireworks and pyrotechnics. Anything that had to do with explosives fascinated me to the point where I began to experiment with how to build my own. Over the years I became quite good at making these devices of destruction for recreation. I became good enough, to the point where I began considering making a career out of it through demolition or special effects. On Friday, July 10, 2015, the happiest day of my life, I was married to my wonderful wife Amy. Five days after, on the following Wednesday, my family was having an adoption celebration dinner for my nephew. It was also my parents’ anniversary and my niece’s birthday, so it was a day filled with celebration.
Near the end of the dinner, my brother came up with an idea. Just outside of the town of Cardston where I live are two abandoned train bridges that sit just on the edge of the St. Mary Reservoir. You can jump off of these bridges into the reservoir and it is a lot of fun. So my brother gets the idea to gather up some of the family and go bridge jumping. There was my wife and me, my brother Nephi and his wife Andrea, my oldest sister Tanya and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Jessica.
Now, I had been working on a design for a powerful explosive that was waterproof. You would throw the explosive into the water and then when it went off, it would create this huge Old Faithful geyser of water that I thought would be awesome. My original design was to have an electric ignition composed of wires going into a waterproof container that I could lower into a body of water, touch the wires to a battery, and BOOM! Most importantly the electric ignition would put us at a distance and out of harm’s way. When we went bridge jumping that day, I thought it would be a great idea to test out this explosive in the reservoir and show my family how cool it was. The only problem was that the stores were closed, so I couldn’t get the materials I needed for an electric ignition. I figured that if I made a really long black powder fuse that it would give me about a minute’s worth of burn time. I believed that it would give me plenty of time to light my blasting cap, toss it into my waterproof container with the explosive substance (which was 2 ½ pounds of tannerite), screw on the lid, and throw it into the water. So we got out to the bridges and I walked across the bridge (made up of railroad ties) and jumped down the embankment onto the mudflats beside the water. My family was all standing up on the bridge with an aerial view of me on the bank. I asked my brother to start filming because I wanted to get the blast on camera. He told me that the camera was recording so I knelt down, lit the fuse to the blasting cap, tossed it into the container, and screwed on the lid. Just as I pulled my right hand away, BOOM!
2 ½ pounds of tannerite exploded about a foot and a half away from my face. I remember laying in the sand thinking, “I’m dead. I have to be dead because there is no possible way I just survived that.” All I could hear were the muffled screams from my family. All they could see from their angle was a cloud of smoke, so they didn’t know if I was alive or dead. Suddenly a huge wave of pain swept over me and it then occurred to me that I was still alive. I started looking around and because of all the shrapnel that hit me, I could only see out of my right eye. I looked over to see what was causing my left hand so much pain only to see that my left hand was gone. As I looked at what remained of my hand, I suddenly realized how serious of a situation I was in and that if I wanted to survive I needed to get out of there now. Through a series of miracles and with the help of my family, I was able to get up the embankment and to the bridge. I threw my arms around my sisters and started walking across the bridge on faith. Now, you have got to understand that at this point my left knee cap was showing and the force of the blast had literally blown off my clothing and peppered me with so much shrapnel that I resembled a zombie. There was so much blood in my eyes that I could not see, yet, I pressed forward, step by step, across a bridge that was laden with nails, gaps, and broken railroad ties. Despite the condition I was in, my wife and family members who were there said that I walked across that bridge as fast as they could on a good day. I didn’t stumble, I didn’t fall. It was, without a doubt, a miracle.
When I got across the bridge I rolled into the box of the truck and put my head on my wife’s lap while my brother drove as fast as he could, trying to get to Cardston. The pain on the left side of my face was so great that I remember asking my wife,
“Amy, do I still have my face? Do I still have my face?”
To which she replied, “Yes Levi, you still have your face.”
I then shouted out (and this is verbatim, no word of a lie), “Amy, I need to know…do I still have my penis!?”
Priorities… am I right? It turns out that it was just the comic relief that we needed at that moment, even if it was a serious question.
Then I had to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Now, you have to understand that because of the situation and condition I was in, I didn’t think I was going to make it. So I said to my wonderful wife Amy, “Amy, I want you to know that if I don’t make it, you have my blessing to be remarried. I don’t want you to go the rest of your life not knowing if I would’ve been OK with it.”
I was basically saying goodbye. Being the strong, patient woman that she is, she replied, “Levi, what are you talking about? You still have so many peoples’ lives to touch! You have so much more to do in this life! You’re not going anywhere!”
We then proceeded to pray together, knowing that my life was in God’s hands. We asked Him, if it is His will, to please let me live.
The last thing I remembered was that I was in the Cardston hospital and my dad was giving me a Priesthood Blessing, which in my religion is basically a prayer on one’s behalf. I remember him saying, “Levi, God wants you to know that this is just going to be a trial in your life and that you are going to make a full recovery.”
As soon as I heard those words, whoosh… all my pain left.
I remembered this feeling like I was floating, surrounded by this immense white. I thought to myself, This is it, I’m dying and I’m passing over. I decided to basically let myself go, to what I thought was inevitable. What happened next has completely changed my outlook on death.
Even with all my religious beliefs of what happens after we die, I still feared it because I didn’t actually know what death itself would be like. But in that moment, when I thought that this was it, that I’m dying, this huge blanket of love and peace enveloped me and I knew that everything would be OK and that I would be at peace.
I then started to think about my wife and how she would be mourning her husband after only five days of marriage. I started thinking of a family who would be mourning their friend, their brother, and their son. I then decided that no, I’m not ready to die. So I began to plead saying, “Please… Please, please let me stay! I don’t want to die. Just let me go back for ten minutes and say my proper goodbyes to my family. I just want to see my wife’s face one more time. Ten minutes is all I want, please!”
As I was pleading, I started to hear a distant voice calling out to me. It was the voice of my wife. She was calling out saying,
“Levi you’re waking up! You’re doing so good. You have been doing everything the doctors have asked you to do. Stay Strong!”
I then opened up my right eye to see the beautiful face of my wife Amy smiling back at me. When I saw her face, I was so overcome with joy knowing that I had survived. I could not believe that I was alive! If I hadn’t had a breathing tube in I would’ve shouted for joy.
I soon found out that what felt like 45 seconds to me, was actually six days worth of an induced coma. It has become a running joke between my wife and I that it was the shortest week of my life, but the longest week of hers. I am so grateful to be married to such an incredible woman, who against all odds was able to stay strong and be a support system through everything, especially after having to witness and experience what she did.
What I believe caused the explosion was that since I had the long fuse within a small container, the fuse must’ve been whipping around and crossed itself off at a lower ignition point, setting the explosive off early.
Now there are a million things that I have learned through this experience and I could talk about them for days, but for now, I just want to touch on a few important aspects. I do not blame the tannerite, or the fuse, or the components of the explosive for doing this to me. I was an idiot! I allowed myself to get too comfortable with explosives, which caused me to become complacent, allowing me to make stupid design choices leading to amputation and a fight for my life. That moment that you think you’re invincible and that you don’t have to take precautions because you “know” what you’re doing, is the exact moment that you will let your guard down and make a stupid mistake that will either end or change your life forever and it only takes one small moment of complacency to do so.
One of the most important things I have learned through this experience is that life is too short to waste time focusing on material things that don’t last. It’s not wrong to “want” material things and an abundance of money, but when that becomes our focus we miss out on what really matters in this life and that is our connections with people. In those times of adversity when you need support to help you make it through, you will find that one of the only things that can help to pull you up is your relationships, your family, and your friends. They are what motivated me to keep fighting and pleading to live. When we die, our houses, our vehicles, and our statues of bronze will all turn to dust. The only thing left behind to carry on our legacies are those who we choose to surround ourselves with. We can’t build a legacy if we don’t cherish those whom we love.