SALT LAKE CITY — Laramie Riggs is a "guiding light" to those around her, her family says, and it was her strong faith and "a miracle" that kept her alive when the bus she was travelling on through Ecuador crashed Saturday.
"We've been told by everyone it's a miracle she's alive," her sister, Ashlynn Anderson, said Monday. "She's always been a guiding light for people and had faith in them."
The University of Utah student, who will turn 21 at the end of this month, was travelling by bus near the town on Alausí in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador when the vehicle lost traction and rolled about 1 a.m. Saturday.
Of the 42 passengers on the bus, seven died and 35 were injured.
Laramie was battered, bleeding and turning blue when rescue workers got to her, said her mother, Tammy Riggs. The athletic girl who loves volleyball and long-distance running has at least five broken ribs and two collapsed lungs, and she has already undergone one surgery for five damaged vertebrae, one of which was crushed.
"They thought she was dead when they found her," Tammy Riggs said. "The thing that saved her life is they were all asleep."
Laramie and another injured U.S. student were taken to a hospital in Riobamaba, where Tammy Riggs said an inspired doctor immediately put her on a ventilator and inserted tubes to drain the fluid from her lungs. She was then taken to Quito, where her father was able to join her, and she made the first call to her family in Utah.
"The poor thing, she felt bad," Anderson said. "She said she didn't think she was in danger. She's more concerned about us than herself."
Even through the relief of hearing Laramie's voice, "you could tell she was in pain," her sister said.
Laramie never misses a Sunday at the Elevation Christian Church in Layton, and a Christian missionary working in the hospital has been a constant figure in her hospital room, making calls to her family and holding her hand as she prays, Anderson said.
Now, the Riggs family is fighting to bring their daughter back to the Utah where they hope to admit her to Intermountain Medical Center, while Laramie fights to get well enough to travel. They hope that within a week she will be off the ventilator and have the tubes removed from her chest, a necessary step before she can be cleared for the trip.
Laramie, who is studying Spanish and marketing at the U, was one of four American students participating in the 10-week program. She applied for the study abroad trip in order to graduate next spring. Laramie loves the U, especially her job as a resident adviser in the dorms, her sister said.
"The U. has been fantastic. We've contacted them and asked if they can save her position," Anderson said. "She loved that job. Being there was everything to her."
Amanda Newman has been friends with Laramie since the two were assigned to be roommates freshman year.
"Laramie has a million best friends," Newman said.
Now, those friends are sharing their love on a Facebook page called "Love for Laramie." They will gather Tuesday to assemble bouquets of synthetic flowers for Laramie's hospital room and home, attaching personalized messages to each flower, Newman said.
"We all have a debt to pay where Laramie is concerned because she's been with a lot of us through a lot of tough stuff, and so now we're here for her," she said.
The group will meet to make the bouquets between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the University of Utah Heritage Center.
The gesture is a needed reprieve for the family, Anderson said.
"We have had remarkable amounts of people with prayers and thoughts for her," she said. "We're so grateful for someone to do this because we haven't had a chance to get off the phone with hospitals and doctors."
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