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Paul Oakey's Monday visit to a Guatemala zoo with his LDS missionary companions ended in a bloody encounter with two lions.

It was a day free from proselytizing for Oakey and several other missionaries in the rural town of Esquipulas.

Oakey, 20, wanted a picture of himself in front of the lion cage. He scaled a concrete wall in front of the enclosure, not realizing the lions were only about two feet below the wall on the other side.

Two lions stalked stealthily up to the wall. One grabbed Oakey's right leg, pulling him back against the cage, and the other lion grabbed his left arm.

Oakey repeatedly punched the lion with his free arm and gouged at its eye.

But after about a minute, he began to tire, said his father, Alan Oakey.

"He was just wailing on this lion, and he couldn't do anything with the arm that the lion had," Alan Oakey said of his oldest son.

Oakey's missionary companion, Elder Lopez, then scaled the wall and used a long white pole to pry the lion's jaws from around Oakey's arm, his father said.

When zookeepers arrived with guns, Oakey shouted for them to shoot the lion, but they fired shots into the air instead, the family wrote.

Two sister missionaries began praying. Upon the word amen — after a horrifying two minutes — the second lion released Oakey's leg.

"Sometimes the shorter prayer is the more prudent prayer," the family wrote on the missionary's blog.

Oakey had lost five pints of blood but was able to roll along the wall and use his good arm to hang off it before dropping into the arms of a fellow missionary.

"He told his companions that someone had better have gotten photographs of it," said Alan Oakey, with an incredulous laugh. "That's just the way he is."

Paul Oakey was whisked away to a local hospital, which normally doesn't have a surgeon on staff.

However, a vascular surgeon happened to be visiting, and he was able to reattach an artery in Oakey's arm, which his family says saved the limb. He has good circulation to his fingers, but still can't move them, his family wrote. Oakey has O-positive blood, and all the American missionaries in the area with that blood type lined up to donate blood, they wrote.

Oakey said he had seen bone during the attack, but doctors confirmed none of his bones were broken.

Tuesday morning, after surgery in the small town, he was being taken to Guatemala City, a five-hour drive in an ambulance. A doctor who serves all of Central America arrived Monday to assess Oakey, and accompanied him back to the capital. The blood pressure in Oakey's mauled arm was low, and may require further surgery, the family wrote. He may also have suffered nerve damage to his right leg, and he's in a lot of pain, Alan Oakey said.

"He's a very active young man, and he has fun as all young men do," Alan Oakey said. "He wasn't trying to do anything crazy, he just wanted a picture. He's sorry he put us through this, and we're just praying it comes out the right way."

He said his son will probably visit a zoo again, but "not get that close ever again."

LDS Church officials have assured the family they will do everything they can for Oakey medically, which may include flying him to a hospital in another country, Alan Oakey said.

The LDS Church expressed its concern.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Elder Oakey and his family as he goes through this difficult time," said Scott Trotter, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The family thanked everyone for their "prayers and concern."

"We are certain Paul will make a full recovery. He is a very strong and healthy young man and, more importantly, a faithful servant of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," his family wrote on the blog. "He loves serving the people of Guatemala and bringing the message of the gospel to them."

Twitter: @sheena5427 —


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