David Eves discovered firsthand how quickly life can change when, on September 20, 1997, he and his friends went four-wheeling at Kolob Canyon in southern Utah.
“We’d been driving all day when we hit a bump and lost control,” says David. “I remember flying through the air, then waking up in excruciating pain. When I saw my friends looking down at me and told them I couldn’t feel my legs, I knew I would never be the same.”
After being life-flighted to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City and undergoing eight hours of surgery to stop internal bleeding and to secure two titanium rods in his back, David spent the next three months fighting for his life.
An avid football, basketball, and track star, David, of the LaVerkin Second Ward, LaVerkin Utah Stake, was no stranger to pain, but soon he was faced with a new challenge: he couldn’t hold his food down or speak. His body weight dropped from 170 to 100 pounds over a two-month period.
The days and nights grew longer. “I wanted to get off the morphine, but the pain was unbearable,” David recalls. “I asked my dad to read to me from the Book of Mormon, and as he did a miracle happened. The spirit of that book brought so much peace, I was able to rest.”
But David was not improving. Jill Eves became alarmed at her son’s severe weight loss and, pleading with the Lord for inspiration, knew a specialist must be called immediately. Sure enough, the doctor discovered and repaired a hole in David’s esophagus, and David came home two weeks later.
His father, Raymond, had taught him two important secrets to obtaining goals: give it your all and never quit. David was used to giving his all, so it was no surprise when he was back at school the following Monday.
“Looking like an alien with my body cast and neck brace, I could see how different I was. I had absolute faith I would get better, but soon realized I was completely unlike the other 800 kids in my school. After that first hard week, though, I knew I could do anything I wanted; I just had to find a different way.”
When his brother suggested he run for student body president a few months later, David again gave it his all. “Vote for someone with skills and wheels!” posters lined the school halls, and soon David went from jock to school leader. “That year was awesome,” he says. “I felt it was the perfect preparation for my mission.”
Nothing made David’s therapy more important than his determination to serve a mission. Although some of his friends said serving a mission wasn’t necessary, since he was in a wheelchair, David didn’t buy it. “I knew the Lord wanted me to serve, so I decided I would do everything in my power to make that possible.”
Before long, he could shower and dress himself, drive his car, and negotiate his way anywhere. In fact, after his doctor said it was impossible, David learned to strap on a brace he calls his exoskeleton and walk, using crutches extending from his hands, by moving his shoulders to push his body forward. With no sense of balance or ability to feel the ground under him, this is an incredible feat—one for which the students and parents honored him with a standing ovation at high school graduation exercises.
After graduation David couldn’t wait to turn 19 and send in his mission papers. His doctor attached a note verifying he was totally independent.
But it was not to be. Instead of a calling, David’s letter informed him he could not serve a full-time proselyting mission.
“When I heard this, I was crushed,” remembers David. “I had worked so hard, and it seemed it was all taken away from me in just a matter of seconds.” Even though David had given it his best, he felt strongly he must continue to pursue a mission. An interview was arranged with Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve, who lovingly assured David there was a mission for him.
One week later he was called to serve a welfare mission at the Deseret Industries (D.I.) in St. George. Nothing had prepared him for such a call. “To tell the truth, I was disappointed.” But he kept hearing these words to the song, “I will go, I will do,” run through his head and knew the Lord wanted him there.
“I look back now and think how foolish I was. I had no clue what a blessing this mission would be,” David says.
Not only has David been blessed, but his sense of humor and positive attitude touched each of the 250-plus people whose lives have been uplifted and changed through D.I.’s self-sufficiency and missionary programs. “Whenever we were having a bad day, we’d just come and find Elder Eves,” says Debbie Kelly, a trainee. “When we saw how happy and positive he was, even in a wheelchair, we’d ask, ‘What are we complaining about?’”
While serving his mission, Elder Eves spent mornings tutoring trainees working on their high school and G.E.D. certificates. “He helped me so much,” says Brandy, a single mom working to learn the skills necessary for upgraded employment. “I couldn’t have passed my math section without him.”
But to David, tutoring wasn’t just about teaching educational skills. He loved his students. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he says. The relationships he developed with his students reached higher levels, like teaching the six missionary discussions to Rita Roberts, another trainee.
“He helped me understand the gospel step by step, because I’m a slow learner,” Rita says. “And I knew I could count on him for anything. He and his family helped me move twice. You couldn’t get a better person—not just in the classroom, but everywhere. He’s cool and unique.”
Besides tutoring staff members, David was responsible for many devotionals at the D.I.
“One day it was Elder Eves’s turn to give the devotional. Everyone was there but him. In a few minutes, in he came, walking with his braces. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as he talked to us about overcoming adversity and working with your hand in God’s to accomplish any goal,” says Sister Scott, a welfare missionary at D.I.
While David loved serving at D.I., his missionary efforts didn’t stop there. In the evenings, he went team teaching with the full-time missionaries, resulting in several baptisms, one where he was asked to perform the baptism.
“I figured if she had enough faith to ask me to baptize her, I had enough faith to find a way to do it,” remembers Elder Eves. And so on January 1, 2000, being strapped in his shower chair, Elder Eves said the baptismal prayer and lowered Robin Rasmussen into the water. No one will ever forget the spirit present that day.
David brings a feeling of hope and peace everywhere he goes. But it’s his great sense of humor that endears him to everyone he meets. “I learned early on that if others see me joking about being paralyzed, they are more comfortable around me. When they realize I’m happy because of the gospel and my many blessings, the whole wheelchair thing disappears and they see me as a person.”
And counting blessings is what Elder Eves concentrates on. “The one thing my mission taught me more than anything else is how blessed I am. When I saw the problems some of these people at work deal with, my heart went out to them and I wondered if I could do what they do. I have a family who loves me, I have the gospel, and I have had the opportunity to serve the Lord on a mission. I couldn’t ask for more,” he says.
David is currently attending Dixie State College on a full scholarship and exercising on his bike and braces. “I work out in those leg braces every day to keep my legs stretched, so that when I do walk again I’ll be ready,” he says, with the same fervor with which he bears his testimony.
“I love the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–8: ‘My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.’ I know Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration and that Jesus Christ is our Savior and loves each of us. Sometimes when we’re going through hard times, it seems like we’re alone, but we’re really not. He’s right there with us. And with this knowledge, everything else falls into place.”