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Dres Empey & Mason Wells: Coming Home to Heal

Mar 01, 2017

Amber Empey's son was the last person she expected to hear from on the morning of March 22, 2016. Elder Joseph "Dres" Empey still had three months remaining of his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but, all of a sudden, his familiar voice was on the line.

Dres was in a hospital in Belgium, he told his family. He'd been injured in an attack, along with his companion Mason Wells and two other missionaries.

"He was able to put us at peace immediately upon that phone call and possibly downplay the tragedy that was happening and unfolding around him," said Amber, who raced with her husband Court to Brussels to be by their son's side.

Court remembered the feeling of reuniting at a Brussels hospital with his son after nearly two years apart.

"Seeing his eyes and seeing he was OK was probably the most peace I've had in my whole life," Court said. "Ever since I married my soul mate, I dreamt of having a son like Dres—an amazing young man who seems to put others before himself."

A week later, Dres and Mason were relieved to be back in their home state with their parents and siblings, recovering from lower-body shrapnel injuries and second-degree burns to their hands and faces at University of Utah Health Burn Center. Doctors overseeing their care expect both men to make full recoveries, but they still have a road to travel.

"This is not something that happens over days or weeks or even months," said Burn Center Medical Director Stephen Morris, MD. "With burn injuries and traumatic injuries, it can often take months and even a year or two of therapy and ongoing care until they make their full recovery."

Amber has loved watching Dres make strides each day.

"Every time they take care of his wounds, you see progress happening in front of your eyes," Amber said. "They're young, healthy boys, and, thank goodness, their bodies are healing fast."

A team of physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists are just a few of the health care professionals contributing to the "environment of healing" that surrounds Mason and Dres, Morris said. They've also got each other to lean on.

"We are forever eternally connected as close family and friends," said Chad Wells, Mason's dad.