Every few hours, Bridger Hunt awakes from the medically induced coma, strapped to his hospital bed with a ventilator tube in his mouth, and panics.
Mindy Carter-Shaw hardly sleeps as she waits for these moments with her son.
She calms him. She asks if he's in pain and he puts his thumb down. She asks him where he itches and he points. He nods the best he can when she asks if he wants information.
She tells her son all she can bear: He was injured. There was an accident.
"He thinks he's just broken his leg," Carter-Shaw said. "He doesn't have any clue how bad his injuries are."
On Pioneer Day, Bridger was riding a bicycle home from a barbecue in Lehi when a homemade firework, said to be made of pipe and compressed black powder, exploded 30 feet away, police said.
Pieces of the pipe cut through the boy's torso and blew apart his left leg. He nearly bled to death as doctors fought to save his life.
"It's a war injury," the boy's stepfather, Travis Shaw, said. "It's what they see in Iraq."
Though Bridger remained in critical condition Sunday, doctors now believe the boy will survive his injuries.
"He's doing well today," Carter-Shaw told reporters Sunday outside Primary Children's Medical Center. "Better than yesterday. Every day, he's progressing."
The medication keeps him from feeling the pain and allows his body to rest and heal. She scratches where he itches.
He asks for information and Carter-Shaw reads her son the well wishes left on the message boards of local media Web sites. Many of the comments too many, she said have been directed negatively at Craig Miller, the 45-year-old man who made the firework.
"Everybody ... makes stupid mistakes sometimes," Carter-Shaw said.
The boy's family believes prayer saved Bridger's life. Energy spent lambasting Miller is wasted, she said.
"I'm not angry," Carter-Shaw said. "I need everyone to have positive thoughts for Bridger."
Miller called the family this week to apologize. The man said he would sell his house to help pay for the medical expenses, Carter-Shaw said. The family is uninsured and the bill could be "millions," she said.
"He wants to do anything he can to help," Carter-Shaw said. "He wants to die. I don't want him to feel like that."
Family members said police will decide
what to do with Miller. So far, no charges have been filed.
Sunday, Carter-Shaw's hands shook as she showed pictures of her son. The blurry photos depicted an 11-year-old boy always on the move, his long blond hair with a pink streak flailing in the air.
"He never stayed still," Shaw said. "He never stayed inside. He was always going."
Bridger wanted to be a professional skateboarder. He idolized Ryan Sheckler, an 18-year-old pro. Next month, for Bridger's 12th birthday, his parents planned to build him a half-pipe in the driveway.
His friends all signed a skateboard and dropped it off at the hospital. His mother knows he'll likely never be able to use it.
After she scratches her son's itches and he asks for information, she can't bring herself to tell him everything.
She hasn't told him that twice his heart stopped beating and doctors revived him. She doesn't tell him that his gaping wound wraps from his ribs down around the right side of his leg. She doesn't tell him that his left leg is hanging on by only a flap of skin from his backside and that, after surgery today, the boy's seventh, doctors will know better if the leg will have to be amputated.
Part of it is hope: There are miraculous stories of people recovering from worse, she said. Part of it is fear.
"I am grateful to still have my son," Carter-Shaw said. "I know I have to look my son in the eyes and tell him that everything he's planned until this point has to change."
When is a mother ready to tell her son that? When is a boy ready to hear it?
She said she might be able to tell him in a couple of weeks. Maybe a few months.
That's how long the boy will likely have to stay in the hospital as he undergoes any number of surgeries.That's how long Carter-Shaw will stay by her son, ask him if he hurts, scratch where it itches and give him all the information she can bear.
How to help
A fund in the name of Bridger Nathaniel Hunt has been set up through any Zions Bank branch to help the family with expenses.
E-mail: [email protected]