When Stephanie Decker, 37, wrapped her son, Dominic, 9, and daughter, Reese, 6, up in a comforter and held them down with her body in the basement of their Indiana home during a category F4 (violent) tornado, she didn’t know if they’d survive but she knew that she wasn’t letting go. Stephanie lost parts of her legs after beams fell on her but her kids survived without a scratch. Stephanie, now affectionately called Tornado Mom, shares her story below.
by Stephanie Decker
as told to Julie Weingarden Dubin
As our house exploded into pieces and baseball-size hail slammed against me, I still hung on to my kids and shielded them from the tornado. When I saw the beams falling towards me I didn’t move out of the way because I couldn’t risk Dominic and Reese getting blown away. People throughout the nation warmly call me Tornado Mom and I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support, but I don’t feel like what I did was extraordinary. I just made the right choice to grab my kids, wrap them up in a blanket and protect them. There were many heroes on March 2, including my son, Dominic, who ran for help in the debris even though he didn’t want to leave my side.
Today, we’re living in another home nearby and my kids are back in school and into a routine, so we have a sense of normalcy. My husband, Joe, is back to coaching baseball — his passion — and my kids are playing baseball — their love! Joe is a tremendous support. He’s taken on so many of my duties to give me time to heal. I’m doing great with physical therapy and my trainers are impressed that I’m so self-motivated. I’m inspired by family and friends around me who help me daily.
I wasn’t expected to walk for a year, but on May 2, two months after the tornado hit, I got a new prosthetic foot, and I’ve been walking.
I worked out two hours a day before the tornado and I think being in good shape helped me survive. I lost nearly half my blood in two hours and the doctors said I shouldn’t be here — that I must have had an incredible will to live. And I said I did — my two kids. Dying wasn’t an option. My children needed a mom and I was determined to watch them grow up and have kids of their own.
I always thought I was tough but the pain from my legs was excruciating, like I’d never experienced before. I learned that if I can survive what I went through, I can survive anything.
I’ve learned how to reach for things when I’m in my wheelchair, and I can even vacuum, mop and clean up after my kids but sometimes you just have to let the little things go! I’m a type-A personality so the hardest part for me is having the patience to heal. With my injury, time is what I need most to mend.
For those who want to help, we’ve set up a fund, stephaniedeckerfund.com, to go towards my medical bills, because we honestly have no idea what future expenses will be. We’ve also created a foundation, stephaniedeckerfoundation.com, to help other survivors of tragedy.
Keeping a positive mindset and staying motivated to heal quickly comes easily for me. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I just lived through an F4 tornado that destroyed my home, and my kids don’t have a scratch on them — what more could I ask for? Our odds for survival were slim to none and we defied the odds. I never took my family for granted; however, I hold them a little closer and tighter now.
I feel like I made the right decision during the tornado. I feel fortunate and blessed. We may have lost our material things but the valuables — my children — were saved! Every time I look at my legs I’ll be reminded of that life-changing day, but that’s OK, I’ll also be reminded that I’m here.
It’s easy to have a good attitude — you choose to do it and look for a solution to your problems in a positive way. There’s always a solution no matter how challenging it may be. Don’t give up. Reach out to family and friends.
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