Oakey Recalls Lion Attack in Guatemala

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As a Latter-day Saint missionary, Elder Paul Oakey began his religious service in Guatemala, teaching people about a religion he loves and taking every chance to render service for those in need. Throughout his mission experience, Oakey experienced moments that defined his life and changed him forever. But none of those were quite like the day he went to Esquipulas Zoo to spend time with the other missionaries.

When the group arrived at the lion exhibit, Oakey said he had an idea, “It would be cool to get a picture of the lions with the other missionaries in the background.” Paul said, “So i walked around the back of the cage and got in a position where I could do so.”

After getting into place where he could snap the shot, he checked his camera. While he wasn’t looking, “One of the lions quickly moved towards the bars and grabbed my right calf,” Oakey said as he recalled the scene. As the lion held on to his calf, Paul supported himself on the cage and tried to dislodge the claw. At that time, a second lion grabbed his supporting arm and pulled him chest-first against the bars.

“I started punching the lion with my free arm, and once i realized it wasn’t effective, i began to gouge his eyes,” he said, “I was so pumped with adrenaline that I ended up breaking the tendon in my thumb.”

Another missionary found a pole and wedged it into the mouth of one of the lions, and officials began firing gunshots into the air.

After the two minute battle, the lions finally let go and Oakey fell backwards where the other missionaries caught him.

“We then drove the half mile down a dirt road to the nearest hospital and I remember it all up until we actually got to the hospital, then I blacked out.”

Upon arriving at the hospital, a vascular surgeon in the building, something Oakey said is very uncommon for that facility. “He was able to save my life by mending veins in my arm. I had lost 60 percent of my blood by that point and the other missionaries lined up and donated one by one until I had enough to stay alive.”

Oakey spent four days in Guatemala and then was transferred to Murray, Utah, where he spent 38 days. A week after he arrived in Murray, the doctors told Oakey his left arm would remain limp for the rest of his life. “After consent from my parents I told the doctors to cut my arm off,” he said. “I want something I can use, not an arm that won’t do anything.”

The doctors proceeded with the amputation and Oakey has since returned home to St. George. He now attends physical therapy two times a week to regain his strength. “I won’t let this drag me down, I want to be able to do anything I set my mind to.”

“It happened, I wasn’t planning on getting attacked by lions. It happened and I’m just going to move on, this is not going to stop me much. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me and this is just a little stepping stone and I’ve got to deal with it,” he said.

Paul hopes his outlook on life can affect others in the best way possible. “After I get my prosthetic arm I want to ride a bike across the country and stop along the way to visit different amputee wards in hospitals,” Paul said. “I want to help people realize that we have our whole lives ahead of us and just because I have one less limb doesn’t mean I can’t live my dreams.”

Paul’s next goals are to write a book and continue to lift others up through his story.

“I hope everyone will see what I’m really about and how I can help others.”