It's been 10 years since Nate Keller was shot and nearly bled to death on a dinner date gone wrong in 2003. Ten years later, he has never been able to thank the anonymous man who helped save his life by putting pressure on his gunshot wound until paramedics arrived.
It all started in 1999 when Keller decided it was time to learn to use a gun. He bought a handgun and a pass at a local shooting range and began introducing friends and family to the skill of handling and firing handguns. "Safety is the most important aspect of shooting" according to Keller. He spent 30 minutes teaching safety and the functionality of guns before he entered the range with each friend or family member. "The rules are quite simple, don't ever point a gun at anyone (loaded or unloaded), and don't touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot your target. If you follow these simple rules, no one can ever get hurt." It was on one such shooting range trip in 2003 that Keller learned the consequences of not following these simple rules.
It was April 22, 2003 when Keller headed to Kearns, to the "Totally Awesome Gun Range." Keller's date had requested that he take her shooting before dinner since she had never been shooting before and was moving to New York City that same week. The usual safety and gun functionality lesson came to a close and they entered the range. They were both shooting very well and after about an hour Keller began to put away the guns and ammo as his date finished shooting the last clip from his .22 caliber handgun.
Keller was about 10 feet behind her as he saw her, with his peripheral vision walk toward him to hand him the gun with her finger still on the trigger. The gun went off sending a massive jolt through Keller's right thigh. "It felt like a bomb going off in the middle of my leg." Keller remembers. Keller instinctively grabbed his thigh and ran out of the range to the sales area of the store and yelled, "Call 9-1-1, I just got shot in the leg!" The worker ran to the phone as Keller pulled off his protective eyewear and earplugs.
"My leg felt warm and wet as the blood poured out of the wound and down my leg making the front of my jeans look almost black." His femoral artery had been completely severed. The sudden, massive loss of blood caused Nate to start blacking out so he immediately laid on the ground to keep blood to his brain. Miraculously remaining calm, he pleaded for a nearby store patron to put pressure on his wound to slow the bleeding (he was later told by the surgeon that he would have been unconscious in 30 seconds and would have bled to death in less than 2 minutes if his wound had been left unattended). The man was understandably reluctant in such a traumatic situation, but he came forward like a hero and pressed his palms on the pressure point to slow the bleeding.
Providentially, Keller had just seen an episode of HBO's "Band of Brothers" where a soldier was shot in the femoral artery and died very quickly. "Had I not seen that episode, I never would have known the gravity of my wound. Most movies make it seem like getting shot in the leg is no big deal."
Keller was life-flighted by helicopter to the University of Utah Hospital where surgeon Larry Kraiss patched his severed artery using a piece of his saphenous vein from his ankle, narrowly saving his leg from amputation.
Coincidentally, this was the same week that Aron Ralston was pinned beneath a boulder in southern Utah and had to amputate his own hand with a camping knife. His story was documented in the recent Hollywood film "127 Hours."
Keller shares, "I am so grateful to have no long-term effects from my gunshot injuries. Every day of my life is a gift and I try to spend it wisely."
And spend it wisely he does. Today Keller is a multifamily real estate investor living in Orem. He plays the stringed bass in the Utah Valley Symphony and is on their Board of Directors. He plays the banjo and directs a folk band that tours to Europe every summer to represent the United States in international folk festivals. He also hosts free house concerts every month in Orem. He is a dutiful uncle to 28 nieces and nephews, rarely missing their many events. He is a model citizen and a great asset to the community.
But something still haunts him about that fateful night in 2003: Keller never had a chance to thank the stranger who helped save his life in the most critical moment. "I'd like to thank him for being a hero and being brave enough to come to my aid during such a traumatic event."
If anyone knows the identity of the man who helped save Keller's life in April of 2003, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writer Stacey Thompson is Nate Keller's sister.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company