CODY, Wyo. — The last time Jarom Oilar was in the room, he was fighting for his life.
A year-and-a-half later the Cody High School sophomore was back, many of the same faces around him. Only this time, everyone was smiling.
Oilar was first carried into the West Park Hospital emergency department by his father Josh on Aug. 28, 2016, and Jarom was in trouble.
He had a hole as big as a fist in his chest and a piece of pipe lodged near his heart. There was another piece in his leg and still another ripped his shoulder.
All of it was the result of an explosion in a field near his home that occurred after the pipe he had outfitted with gunpowder to shoot rocks exploded while he was holding it.
The Oilar children had thought it would be fun to build a gun out of a piece of pipe, first firing it from the ground before Jarom picked it up.
Josh heard the explosion and thought his son was playing with leftover fireworks.
Jarom’s mother Lisa Oilar said her son stumbled from a field to the garage holding his chest. Their youngest daughter Livy, 8 at the time, had been right behind him when the explosion occurred and temporarily lost her hearing. Other siblings were covered in gunpowder.
“But no one else was hit with shrapnel,” Lisa said. “Jarom took it all.”
Josh asked his wife in desperation, “What do we do?”
She already knew what she would tell him, attributing it to divine intervention: “We need to go.”
Living seven miles outside town on the Greybull Highway, they put Jarom in the passenger seat, and Lisa and Livy got into the back of the vehicle. Lisa worked to hold Jarom’s head up and keep him conscious while they raced to town. She said the streets were nearly empty of traffic, and most of the lights were green.
“I ran all the lights, laying on the horn the whole time,” Josh said.
Lisa called 911 to let them know that they were driving Jarom in and would not be stopping for the police.
Emergency physician Dr. Aaron Brown had just walked in the door at his home almost next-door to the Oilars following his shift when he got a call from Lisa telling him what had happened. Brown, a family friend, turned around and headed back.
When he arrived, he was surprised by what he encountered.
“We haven’t seen too much of that here,” he said. “That’s an explosive injury.”
Trauma surgeon Dr. Thomas Etter worked to remove the large piece of metal lodged in Jarom’s chest, using a temporary seal over the large wound.
Work was also done to close up his hand by Dr. Jared Lee. A piece of metal had wrecked the area around his pinky.
When the doctors had done what they could, Jarom was life-flighted to Salt Lake City.
The quick response worked wonders. A week later Jarom was laughing with friends in a hospital bed at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“It was very relieving to know he was in as capable hands as possible,” Josh said of the moment he carried his son into the ER and left him with medical staff. “We appreciate everything.”
More than a year later, Josh and Jarom were back talking at the ER. This time speaking with many of the members of the hospital staff who had assisted in intubating and stabilizing Jarom in those crucial minutes.
On Jan. 31, with the department still quiet in the early morning, he and his father thanked everyone for working to save Jarom’s life.
“It’s really special to get this,” emergency physician Dr. Drew Hoene said. “We don’t often get people coming back to say thanks.”
Recovery for Jarom took a while, and the hand injury actually proved to take the longest healing time due to the need to rebuild part of the muscle in the hand and work with tendons. After returning from Salt Lake he made trips to Billings to work on recovery.
In addition to the quick thigh surgery, Jarom had four other surgeries during his recovery period, mostly working on his hand.
Lisa said the community response was incredible. Family friends arrived soon after in the emergency room, and helped watch kids and feed animals during the recovery, while a group of freshmen at CHS pooled summer money to buy Jarom a Playstation 4 to assist with his recovery.
Lisa attributes his ability to recover so well to the initial response at West Park.
“The care they gave him was phenomenal,” she said. “Dr. Etter himself was amazing.”
Etter credits the team around him.
“I take a breath of confidence when I see the faces of our crew in the room,” he said.
Then he looked at Jarom.
“You’ve touched a lot of lives.”
The nurses and doctors present praised the family’s response in the situation, gathering at the hospital to pray and bring good vibes.
“You guys had a lot of support,” Etter said.
An injury that big still takes time, and a year after the incident Jarom’s parents chose to keep him out of fall football.
Josh said they were talking with coaches on what kind of extra chest protection Jarom could wear to be able to play next year.
But the tall sophomore is back for basketball, filling a spot on the Broncs’ junior varsity team.
“He is a hard worker in practice and has the long athletic body that basketball coaches hope walk into the gym,” varsity coach Jacob Kraft said.
It was a speech from Kraft over winter break which spurred on the moment when Jarom and his father would be standing in an emergency room talking with the medical responders.
“A few weeks ago our team was given an assignment to reflect and thank those who have helped us in our lives or who help our basketball team function,” Kraft said. “Jarom decided to thank the hospital staff who helped him with his injury.”
It started with hugs as soon as he walked in the room, while Josh lugged in a jug of hot cocoa.
Jarom thanked everybody for their help, but had a hard time saying too much during the emotional reunion. He said his memory of the incident was — understandably — quite hazy in parts.
Not so for father Josh, who relayed his experience from the moment he heard the blast to the moment he left his son in the care of the hospital staff who at the reunion stood listening, smiling at seeing Jarom standing tall in his Broncs sweatshirt and sweat pants, smiling back.
Information from: The Cody Enterprise, http://www.codyenterprise.com