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A hero at home

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Columbine grad returns from Afghanistan to save people at party

By Emile Hallez

A week of life is missing from Marcus Uribe’s memory.

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The Columbine High School graduate awoke last November in a hospital bed at the University of Texas, a machine controlling his breathing via a tube in his throat.

The Marine, burly from a weight-training regimen, struggled to free himself upon regaining consciousness, an early show of hope that he might recover from the brain injury he sustained when he was run over by a speeding truck days before.

He was a hero — or so people tell him.

With no recollection, Marcus has only others’ accounts of the incident, including an apparent flash decision on his part to jeopardize his own life to potentially save others.

Shortly after returning home from seven months in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, where the 22-year-old, a former tight end on Columbine’s state championship football team, drove large supply trucks, he made a trip to Texas.

“I went down to meet with some buddies. When we were in Afghanistan, we always planned on going and getting a beach house down where they live in Surfside, Texas,” he said.

At a party, a group of unwelcome guests arrived, apparently causing trouble.

“When they showed up, they were being disrespectful to my friend’s mother. They weren’t welcome there, and so they ended up getting kicked out,” he said. “They didn’t like that.”

One of the men got into his truck. Rather than leaving, he allegedly began running down party guests in front of the house.

As the truck approached, witnesses said, Marcus began pushing people out of its path.

The vehicle narrowly missed a friend, but Marcus, then on the ground, did not have time to get out of the way. Four people, including Marcus, were hit before the driver allegedly sped away.

“I fell from pushing him and almost immediately got run over,” he said, relaying his friends’ accounts. “That day to about a week after, I don’t recall anything.”

But for his parents, South Jeffco residents Jeff and Katie Uribe, the memory of that day remains vivid.

Their nightmare began in the early hours of Oct. 30, with a phone call from police.

“I always tell people the story by starting out that on Oct. 30 at 3 a.m. … Katie’s phone and my cell phone rang at the same time. And we both sat up in bed and went, ‘Oh, no,’ ” Jeff said. “The experience was pretty traumatic I think for everybody, because initially, the tone that the responding officer took was, ‘You need to get here, immediately.’ I don’t think that she believed he was going to make it.”

Hours later, the two were on a plane, anxious to learn of their eldest son’s fate.

At first, the news seemed grim. Among other injuries, Marcus suffered a fractured skull and a brain hemorrhage.

“What I’m concerned about is ultimately what happens with the rest of his life. Because we’ve seen the MRI,” Jeff said. “He’s got black spots all over his brain.”

The black spots indicate areas where neurons no longer connect — diffuse patches that may never regenerate. But with the brain’s ability to delegate viable cells to take over the lost functions, Marcus has hope.

“It’s not so much the long-term memory. It’s more the short-term memory. … I can sometimes remember stuff from yesterday, but most of the time it’s like, ‘What’d we talk about 10 minutes ago? I don’t know,” he said. “Processing, thinking about what I’m going to say, it’s gotten better, but the headaches and my back hurt every day. … I’m just thankful to be alive.”

After his initial treatment, Marcus spent two months in a rehabilitation program at Craig Hospital in Englewood.

Doctors have said he could recover within a year, though that is too long for Marcus.

“It’s been slow to me, because I just want to get better,” he said. “The doctors at Craig are saying that I’m recovering faster than normal.”

With Marcus now well into the recovery process, he and his family are not afraid to fit a few laughs into an otherwise austere situation.

“We didn’t realize how hard a head he had,” Jeff said. “He took on that kind of injury. But we’re so glad he’s alive. That’s the most important thing.”

Notable too, Katie said, is that Marcus had returned home from Afghanistan in the best physical shape of his life. Months of slow recovery have eroded a bit of his muscle mass, though the Marine had additional concerns.

“I lost my tan, too,” he said, inducing chuckles in all.

As an extension of his rehabilitation, Marcus is being stationed at the Wounded Warriors Battalion at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif. Doctors will continue to re-evaluate him every three months, until he can be determined fit for deployment or other operations.

With two years remaining in his enlistment, the lance corporal said he hopes to remain in the Marines, and might even sign on for an additional hitch.

But if he is honorably discharged for medical reasons, he said he hopes to find a career that embodies the same discipline, structure and camaraderie he loves about the Marines.

Particularly, he said, he would consider taking classes in criminal justice, with the goal of a law-enforcement job.

Currently, Marcus is uneasily dealing with the experience of being labeled as a hero. On March 4, he was given the American Red Cross Military Lifesaver Award at the local chapter’s Breakfast of Champions.

As for the incident he can’t remember, he attributes his training as a Marine and a football player in guiding a decidedly altruistic reaction.

“It’s an honor and everything, but … I feel like I didn’t really do anything. I just kind of reacted and did what anybody would’ve done,” he said. “It just kind of happened. … I’m not used to it. I’m just a normal guy that just gets through the day.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. 

For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.