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U. student relieved to be back in Utah following bus crash in Ecuador

Internship in Ecuador ends after woman survives deadly crash

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 10:47 a.m. MDT

University of Utah student Laramie Riggs gets a kiss from her professor Carolyn Bliss, with professor Carolan Ownby looking on. Riggs survived critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News) University of Utah student Laramie Riggs gets a kiss from her professor Carolyn Bliss, with professor Carolan Ownby looking on. Riggs survived critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News)

MURRAY — University of Utah student Laramie Riggs said at times she's in a lot of pain, but she is doing well and is glad to be back in Utah.

Riggs suffered seven broken ribs, shattered and cracked vertebrae and two collapsed lungs after the bus she was on in Ecuador crashed July 6. Seven people died in the crash.

"I feel kind of numb. My legs feel great, so that's good," she said earlier this week from her hospital bed at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. She said it was hard to describe how she was feeling. "There's a lot of pain, but the fact that I'm doing so well, it's tolerable."

Riggs, 21, was discharged from the hospital Thursday, one more step in her journey back from Ecuador, where her summer internship came to a sudden end after the bus crash. She traveled to Utah by Air Evac and arrived just after 3 a.m. Saturday. Hospital staff treated and evaluated her and discovered a broken sternum and fractured bones in her neck. But she can still move her legs and is well enough to leave the hospital.

University of Utah student Laramie Riggs talks about surviving with critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News) University of Utah student Laramie Riggs talks about surviving with critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News)

She can't remember very much about that day.

"I remember getting on the bus, and then I was awake for a little while, sitting next to my friend. And then I'm sure I fell asleep for part of the time, and then I remember waking up on a gurney," Riggs said. "I really don't really remember the bus accident at all."

She was traveling with three friends who were also injured, but Riggs said she had the most serious injuries of the group. She said the girl sitting next to her only suffered a scratch under the chin.

Every gesture of kindness is helping Riggs' recovery. Her friends and fellow classmates at the U. made floral arrangements with messages of love and hope that filled Riggs' Utah hospital room.

In Ecuador, strangers came to the hospital to encourage and pray for her.

"I was in a foreign country and nobody knew who I was, yet I had people coming and praying for me. It was global, almost," Riggs said.

University of Utah student Laramie Riggs talks about surviving with critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News) University of Utah student Laramie Riggs talks about surviving with critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News)

The prayers gave her a feeling that she was going to be OK, she said.

"I didn't realize how serious it was because I was pretty out of it, but I was telling my dad that I never felt like I was at death's door or anything," she said. "I always felt confidence and trusted the doctors, so I felt like I was in good hands."

Carolyn Bliss and Carolan Ownby, two of Riggs' professors at the University of Utah, visited her Tuesday. It was their second visit since her return to Utah.

"When I see her, I feel like I'm seeing a member of my family. And she's getting better and better and better, and that's a miracle," Ownby said.

Her bright countenance masks the extent of her injuries, but Riggs is determined in her recovery.

"Firefighters had to find me in the bus, and everyone is talking about how much of a miracle that was, because my friends were looking for me, and if they would have tried to pull me out, I could be paralyzed, or worse," she said.

University of Utah student Laramie Riggs talks about surviving with critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News) University of Utah student Laramie Riggs talks about surviving with critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador. She returned home to Utah early Saturday and is hospitalized at Intermountain Medical Center, Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in Murray. (Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News)

She even laughed as she described her new haircut. She said she wore her long hair in a braid before the crash, but when she reached back to touch it in the hospital, it was gone. She learned that when the firefighters cut her clothes off to rescue her, they also had to cut her hair.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: cmikita@deseretnews.com

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