An 11-year-old Orem boy is fighting for his life at Primary Children's Medical Center after shrapnel from homemade fireworks ripped through his torso as he was riding his bike through his grandfather's Lehi neighborhood Thursday evening.
Bridger Hunt, the son of Mindy Shaw and Karl Hunt, is in critical condition. He was riding bikes with a cousin and was about 30 feet away from the device, said to contain compressed black powder, when it exploded. According to the boy's maternal aunt, Dana Luke, "a great deal of pipe" cut into the boy, who was taken by air ambulance to Primary.
Dr. Eric Scaife, surgeon and medical director of trauma services at the children's hospital, said Bridger's injuries were something you'd expect to see from a roadside bomb in a war zone. It blew apart his left leg and left some of his intestines extruding from his body, he said.
The explosion occurred about 8:30 p.m. Police said the device was a four-inch diameter, 12-18 inch pipe that had been welded onto a quarter-inch-thick metal plate. The man who lit the device, 46, suffered burns to his face and arms. He was taken by ambulance to American Fork Hospital where he was treated and later released.
Bridger was knocked to the ground and shrapnel ripped through his torso and pelvis. Scaife said his survival to this point can be credited to three things: a bystander who put pressure on his wound, literally holding his intestines down against his body to staunch blood flow, the fact that Life Flight did a "scoop and run" to get him to the hospital fast and a trauma surgery team led by Dr. Rebecka Meyers that had him in surgery an hour after the blast.
His femoral artery was severed and his femoral vein was lacerated in two places, injuries that "can dump the entire blood volume out in minutes," Scaife said. He also suffered shattered bones and shredded soft tissue.
Based on the boy's wounds and descriptions from first responders at the scene, Scaife said it is likely that the boy was hit by more than one large chunk of metal. They tore into his body from the base of his ribs to the upper part of his thigh, from his navel around to the midportion of his back.
"He would not have survived another 15 minutes in the field," Scaife said, adding the boy was "as close as you could come to bleeding to death" and "cool-headed response was the difference in saving his life."
Bridger's struggles, however, are not over.
Medically, his condition is still precarious, although his blood loss has been stabilized. His physicians are not sure if his leg can be salvaged. There are potentially life-threatening complications because of his injuries. Scaife said it's very likely he suffered severe nerve damage. And he will remain in the hospital for many weeks, even if everything goes perfectly.
"We don't know if he will walk again," Scaife said, adding that children have a "remarkable ability" to recover from injury. "We're making every effort to salvage his leg. It's impossible to predict the outcome."
Because he was conscious and talking unaware of how badly he was injured when he was being transported, but he's been unconscious since Thursday night, heavily sedated to keep him from moving.
During a news conference at Primary Friday afternoon, Luke described her nephew as an amazing little boy, an avid skateboarder who'd hoped to do that professionally, someone "who loves everyone." She said he's been excited about going to junior high soon, although he didn't think he was "buff enough" and had been working to build up and tone his muscles. He's a great big brother to his younger sister and brother, she said.
As of Friday, no criminal charges had been filed in relation to the incident.
"We have had contact with the county attorney, but at this time charges are pending," said Lehi Police Sgt. Jeff Swenson. "It is essentially still under investigation at this point."
Police said the man had lit the device a few times before the explosion, each time sending sparks into the air. For some reason, the last time the powder was lit, it exploded. The force of the explosion was so strong that shrapnel was found more than 160 feet away.
It was happenstance that put Bridger in its path. He was unaware that someone was playing with fireworks and was just out having fun with his cousin, Luke said.
"We do not feel hatred toward" the man who made the device, said Bridger's stepfather, Travis Shaw, who with other family members was visibly distraught during the news conference. "We know he did not intend this. ... Sometimes people make really poor judgments."
Said Luke, "We really want people to be careful. This is a trauma not only to this little boy but to the entire family."