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After goring, Utahn now feeling 'nearly nothing but gratefulness'

Published August 1, 2014 10:19 am

At the famous San Fermin festival in 2013, U. of U. student "was running with [the bulls] for zero seconds prior to being caught."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

University of Utah student Patrick Eccles caught a "quick glimpse" of a brown bull and saw runners fleeing ahead of him on a crowded Pamplona street before he felt a "thud" and his feet left the ground.

The moment he was gored went viral, captured in dramatic photos of the sixth running of the bulls at last year's San Fermin festival in Spain.

After hitting the ground, "I wasn't really certain what had happened, but was in excruciating pain and soon realized everyone was looking at me somewhat horrified," remembers Eccles, 21.

After his initial recovery and overcoming a painful complication months later, Eccles is preparing for his final year of work on a degree in computer science at the U. He recounted his story in an email exchange, with excerpts edited for length, as the annual festival highlighted in "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway wrapped up in Spain.

Eccles had been participating in an eight-week internship program through Barcelona Study Abroad Experience when he realized he would have free time to travel during the San Fermin festival. He decided to take his "cheapest option" — traveling alone mid-week. But in a fortunate coincidence, he ran into a friend from his hometown of Logan just before the running of the bulls began.

Tribune: Did you consider that you may end up injured?

Eccles: I had ... but more I considered myself a healthy, athletic, non-dimwitted person. I had also spoken with some of the people from Barcelona I'd come to know over the previous month and it seemed that with caution, care, and spry feet I would be fine.

Tribune: Describe the scene on the streets. Where were you positioned?

Eccles: There were tons and tons of people in the streets and on the sides of the streets looking in from outside of the fences. I had decided to be near the beginning of the route, a ways past the first hill and bend.

Once the rockets sounded, the runners and the observers crane their necks down the street. ... Then slowly, as the crowd gets moving, everyone turns and begins running down the street expecting the group of bulls to be following up quickly. And that certainly happened. Very quickly.

I suppose I was running with them for zero seconds prior to being caught.

Tribune: Can you walk me through those moments when it happened? Did it hurt as much as it looked?

Eccles: Normally [the bulls] are packed together as they run up the street, but this bull had broken out on its own and took the first bend very quickly with its momentum carrying it to the side I was on.

As I was turning for my glance behind, I felt a thud as my feet lifted off the ground and watched the wall opposite me move past a bit quicker than normal. With another thud I smacked onto the ground and crawled out of the lane underneath the thick wooden fence.

Turning over I lay on my back. I wasn't really certain what had happened, but was in excruciating pain and soon realized everyone was looking at me somewhat horrified. ... My entire self was focused on handling the pain and handling the overwhelming feeling that this totally sucked.

[An emergency worker reached Eccles "almost immediately" and he was transported to a hospital by ambulance. The phone that he appeared to be clutching in the photos was a video camera, he said, and it was lost. His friend from Logan made the initial call to his family.]

Tribune: When were you first able to contact your family?

Eccles: At some point [in the hospital] a nurse brought a phone over to me and that was when I first spoke to my family and first learned about what had happened. My family [members] were justifiably upset, scared, and worried. It was a difficult phone call on a number of levels.

Tribune: When did you hear that your spleen had been removed?

Eccles: I think it may not have been until later that I understood that my spleen was now gone. The horn of the bull had entered through my side into my abdominal cavity and luckily exited the same way. Someone told me that the thrust of a bull is two parts, the initial thrust and the second toss. This quick action effectively split my spleen in two. ... I am completely blessed to even be alive.

Tribune: How long did you remain in Spain?

Eccles: I spent a full week in the hospital. [My roommates were] a kind elderly man from Spain who had recently underwent surgery, then a younger Spanish boy who had been trampled by people during a run a few days later than mine. [Providing] a strange camaraderie, the hallway in the hospital was used to house a number of other victims of the run who I visited with.

After that week my father [who had arrived to assist me back home] and I spent a few days resting in Barcelona.

Tribune: Were you aware of the media attention here and was it similar there?

Eccles: I had heard a few days afterward that it had been everywhere in the U.S. and even internationally elsewhere. Definitely, for the first few days American and Spanish reporters and strangers visited me, though I had little energy to talk with them and was still heavily drugged. ... For the first number of days in the hospital I did not see the pictures, though it was offered. And when I finally, briefly, looked at them it was certainly a surreal moment.

Last fall, Eccles felt stomach pains and began vomiting. A small undiscovered abscess had grown, he said, and he underwent another abdominal surgery to remove a foot of twisted intestine.

"I spent a week unable to eat food, another week in the hospital," he wrote. Down 30 pounds from his weight before his departure for Spain, the 6'3" Eccles weighed roughly 145 pounds.

With no further complications, "I've spent my time avoiding strenuous activity while keeping up the energy to attend classes and am now able to play soccer and ultimate Frisbee and also lift well more than 20 pounds, which had been my advised limit," he wrote. "And luckily, besides a number of new health risks, I can live normally."

Looking back, Eccles wrote, he feels "nearly nothing but gratefulness. Gratefulness for the medics who acted instantly. Gratefulness for the doctors who saved my life. Gratefulness for the friends who showed their support. Gratefulness for my family who showed their love. And gratefulness for the many amazing strangers that showed their kindness."

Eccles doesn't plan to run with the bulls again, though he doesn't want to "sway people towards or away from it."

But, he added, "The week-long Festival of San Fermin itself is something so incredible and unlike anything I have ever experienced. And that experience is one I would encourage others to have."

brettp@sltrib.com

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman