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photo courtesy, Oakey family
Elder Paul Richard Oakey, of St. George, is recovering in a Guatemalan hospital after being attacked by two lions at a zoo Monday. Oakey has been serving on an LDS Church mission for 19 months.

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Alan Oakey said he believes in miracles.

Now more than ever.

Oakey's 20-year-old son, Paul, is recovering in a Guatemalan hospital after being mauled by two lions Monday at a zoo.

Elder Paul Richard Oakey, of St. George, has been serving the past 19 months as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Guatemala City South Mission.

On his preparation day Monday, Elder Oakey climbed up a tall concrete wall to have his picture taken in front of the zoo's lion exhibit, the missionary's father said.

When Elder Oakey turned his back to the lions, they crept up on him, Alan Oakey said. One lion reached through the cage and grabbed the missionary's right leg, causing him to fall back against the cage. A second lion then grabbed Elder Oakey's left arm with its mouth.

One of the lions bit a chunk out of Elder Oakey's right calf. The other lion clamped down on the missionary's left bicep, and during the attack had most of the man's left arm in its mouth.

Other missionaries who were at the zoo with Elder Oakey had trouble scaling the wall, Alan Oakey said. The missionary battled the lions for about two minutes before he was able to free himself and escape the cage.

"He was punching one of the lions with his right arm," Alan Oakey said. "If he would have given up, the two-minute battle would have ended up very differently. I wouldn't have my son right now."

He also credits a higher power for saving his son's life.

Two sister missionaries with the group at the zoo said a quick prayer, Alan Oakey said.

"As soon as they said, 'amen,' the lion's mouth opened, and (Elder Oakey) fell back down in a safe area," he said.

Elder Oakey's companion eventually made it into the fray and used a bar to help pry open the mouth of the lion whose jaws were locked on the missionary's biceps.

The missionary lost about three pints of blood during the battle, Alan Oakey said. Fortunately, other missionaries at the zoo that day shared Elder Oakey's O-positive blood type, providing him with the transfusions he needed.

Elder Oakey was rushed to a nearby hospital in Esquipulas, where a vascular surgeon happened to be working that day. Typically, that hospital doesn't have a vascular surgeon on duty, Alan Oakey said.

"We were very fortunate to have (the surgeon) there," he said. "Otherwise, Paul probably wouldn't have an arm right now."

The surgeon worked to repair Elder Oakey's arm for about two hours and then operated on his leg for three hours. The missionary then was transported by ambulance to a larger hospital six hours away in Guatemala City, where doctors are working to determine if he will regain full use of his fingers.

LDS Church officials issued a statement Tuesday, saying "our thoughts and prayers are with Elder Oakey and his family as he goes through this difficult time."

And prayers, Alan Oakey said, are exactly what his son needs.

"That's what's been working," he said.

Contributing: Marc Giauque

Email: jpage@desnews.com