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After a near-death experience, photography helped this Colorado Springs man heal

August 8, 2017 Updated: August 9, 2017 at 9:52 pm
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Bryce Yamashita had been in the hospital five days when he told his wife he wanted to die.

Bacterial meningitis ravaged his spine and mind, allergic reactions to the medicine wracked his already weak body, and doctors didn't seem to have a solution. He told his wife, Dawn Yamashita, she could have the life insurance money. He could give into the pain and fog in his head.

In that moment, lying in his hospital bed, Bryce couldn't have known about the things to come.

He didn't know he'd see a black-footed, amber-eyed baby fox stare straight into his lens and scamper past. He didn't know the timberlike horns and black, nappy hair of a buffalo would look so real that you'd reach out to touch the prints. He didn't know the mountains would help him heal and the animals would give him hope.

In high school, Bryce loved to take photos. He was on the yearbook staff and shot high school sports. But as he finished high school, his interest in photography faded. He got a degree in computer science, met his wife and started a family.

He only picked up his camera again to document his sons' lives.

In 2013, everything changed.

The brink of death

Bryce thought he would wreck his car. Each time he pressed the brake, searing pain shot through his lower back.

Bryce Yamashita hikes through Garden of the Gods with his camera and 400 mm lens Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, He was hosptialized with bacterial meningitis when he decided to pursue his passion for photographer. Yamashita now spends his free time capturing images of wildlife and the beauty surrounding him. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

"I thought I was going to drive into an intersection," he said, remembering an excruciating drive to an urgent care clinic near Seattle.

Dawn was downtown buying vegetarian cookbooks and beads for bracelets when Bryce called and asked her to pick him up.

He was prescribed an antibiotic for sepsis. But by midnight, they were in the emergency room. A spinal tab showed cloudy fluid in Bryce's spine. The doctors finally diagnosed it as bacterial meningitis, though they didn't know how he contracted it.

The next 10 days were a haze, Bryce said.

"It was as if I was a disinterested third party. I was just zoned out."

While he fought for his health, Dawn did, too. Every morning she walked in with a list of questions for the doctors. Was this the right place for treatment? Was this the normal course of recovery? What were they missing? She said the doctor would joke and roll his eyes.

"He told me, 'You're the kind of person I'd like to have on my side,'" Dawn said. "Which probably just means I was a real pain in the neck."

But Dawn was vigilant as Bryce lay withering. He laid in bed for hours without moving. Midway through his hospital stint, in a cloud of antibiotics and pain, he told Dawn he wanted to die.

"Which is the one thing your wife doesn't want to hear," Dawn said.

She was angry and told him so. They had two sons and a life together. It was selfish. She soon realized he wasn't thinking straight. She urged him to fight, to give it his all. That's when they started filling the whiteboard.

Dawn or one of their sons would post affirmations or words of encouragement on the whiteboard daily.

"And we made him read them in the morning," Dawn said. "That really pissed him off, but in my mind, that was going to give him some positive support."

Ten days after coming to the emergency room, Bryce went home. But recovery was difficult. He had lost 15 pounds and much of his muscle mass. Simply climbing stairs was exhausting. His mind had suffered too. He was often confused and had trouble with his memory.

A month into his recovery, Dawn said, "I thought it would be good to find something he really loved. I figured he used to like hiking and photography, so why not do both?"

That turned out to be the best therapy. At first he only hiked but then realized he wanted to capture the things he was seeing - the landscapes, birds and wildlife.

His portfolio filled with bighorn sheep, elk, moose, bald eagles, marmots and, his favorite, pikas.

 

In summer, Bryce, 58, explores Mount Evans.

In autumn, he goes to Rocky Mountain National Park and in winter, to Colorado Springs destinations that are too busy in summer.

"I think he was afraid people would judge him," Dawn said, so he prefers the solitude of the mountains.

For now, photography is his hobby. But Dawn hopes he'll make it something more when he retires.

He told her he would like his photographs to hang in hospitals.

"It might bring joy or happiness to someone who's there," she said. "There's always something better down the road; have hope and be encouraged."

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