Life after the Joplin tornado

TULSA - Friday marks two months since the deadly E-F5 tornado ripped through Joplin.

That night some of the storm victims were brought to hospitals in Tulsa, people like Dustin DeMier.

"X-rays aren't indicating anything broken or fractured," said DeMier when he spoke to 2NEWS just two days after the storm.

The 33-year-old suffered severe nerve damage when a staircase collapsed on him.  He couldn't move from the waist down.

"I didn't know if anything was going to work, I didn't know if anything was going to come back. No feeling, no movement. Minus the left foot," said DeMier.

Dustin stayed at Saint Francis Hospital for three weeks before getting to go home. 

His routine consisted of a daily rehabilitation session.

We caught up with him for one of those appointments and on the day he would return home.

"We were having to hold on to the belt because his legs would just collapse," said Corrie Feyen.

She was part of a team of therapists at DeMier's side, and he's slowly starting to walk again.

"Since it's the peripheral nervous system it's going to grow back. The nerves will regenerate.  It's just a slow process," said Feyen.

DeMier's mother, Letha, has been by her son's side as he received treatment.

"They tell me that nerves take longer to heal than broken bones," said Letha DeMier, Dustin's mom.

Letha DeMier has driven back and forth almost everyday, and on this trip she's ecstatic. Her son is coming home.

"I wonder what his reaction is going to be as we drive through Joplin," said Letha DeMier.  "It's been a while since, he hasn't watched it on television. So, I just wonder in daylight what his reaction is going to be."

There were lots of hugs and good-byes as he wheeled down the hall and out of the rehabilitation center he's called home for several weeks.

"We're going to miss you. Please let us know how you're doing, OK," one nurse said.

Dustin said he had mixed feelings.

"I don't want to go home to actually see all the destruction," said DeMier.  "But, I am ready to go home to be with friends and family."

2NEWS met up with DeMier again one week after his homecoming.

In the car, he talked about what the area looked like before the storm.

"Buildings everywhere, trees. This is my mom's old salon right over here," DeMier pointed out.

Just a few blocks away we pulled into DeMier's apartment complex.  There wasn't much left.

As he looked up at where his unit was he said, "I'm all upstairs, which obviously there's nothing."

It's here that he saw Alex Bird for the first time since being rescued.

"I appreciate it. I remember you man," as he hugged Bird.

Moments after the storm, Bird was going from apartment to apartment helping save people when he came across his old friend.

"I was like 'Oh my gosh, I know him.' I'm just glad that he's OK. I didn't know where they took him. I was just glad that he was all right," said Bird.

There was also a reunion with the woman who drove DeMier to Freeman Hospital that night.

"How are you," DeMier said as he got out of the vehicle.  "Give me a big ol' hug. How ya' doing?"

Tiffany Johnson, a complete stranger with a medical background, made room in her van for a guy who needed help.

"The back of his head I used books. I used my diaper bag and took diapers out and used everything I could to keep him stable," said Johnson while talking about that night.

DeMier lost pretty much everything he owned. 

His car was destroyed, but some friends did manage to find his motorcycle a few days later. It suffered some body damage.

"My motorcycle fell on its right side and I saw it started skating down, it skated down the driveway there, the parking lot," said DeMier.

While there, DeMier made a discovery of his own.

"Hey, there's my helmet! Lookie there, that's my motorcycle helmet," said DeMierwith excitement in his voice.

He knows there's still a long road ahead when it comes to his recovery and the rebuilding of his life, but he remains optimistic about what life will be like after the tornado, especially when it comes to walking again.

"The results that I'm seeing, it's coming back," said DeMier.  "Everything's moving around so I'm pretty confident I'll get everything back, I'm confidant. At least enough to live a normal life."

DeMier said he's looking forward to getting back to work.

His auto-body shop was destroyed by the storm so DeMier said there's a good chance he'll be moving to Tulsa.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments