Surviving the F-5 tornado at St. John's
March 11, 2012

Kourtney and Adam Grisham pose with daughter Emily

My husband was feeling moderate pain when I and my 13-month-old daughter on May 22, 2011, accompanied him to St. John's Hospital. While he was being treated for what turned out to be a hernia, my daughter and I went to the hospital cafeteria to get dinner. We were there for about seven minutes when the lights began to go out and the ceiling fall down.

I began to run down the hallway with no destination in mind with my daughter tucked as tightly to my chest as I could hold her when a hand reached out to me from a small doorway leading to the back of the cafeteria. I had seen it during the flash of an emergency light and took it. It was a man who reached for me from this tiny doorway.

Seven people were huddled together. They kindly made room to squeeze my daughter and myself in the middle of the group.

While the man held on to my daughter and me, the wind was overwhelming. I just knew we were going to die.

It's hard to put into words but I imagine that if someone were to stand as closely as possible to the fastest train they had ever seen, the noise may relate. However, noise was the least of our problems.

I screamed out a prayer, a plea to God to save us, and began begging for it to be over, but the force continued to be strong. I felt myself being pulled from my daughter and the man who was holding on to both of us as if we had known each other and were the closest of friends. But a woman behind me also had hold of me and all of us in the doorway remained alive.

Kourtney Grisham holds her daughter Emily. With them is Matt Hutchison, the St. John's employee who saved them from the F-5 tornado that hit the hospital head-on.

The wind inside the hospital silenced and I hugged my screaming child and the man who saved us. He lowered me into a sitting position. I was frantic. He was calm.

He asked me what my daughter's name was and I told him, "Emily." I asked him, "Why are you like this?" I was still in shock not understanding why he had risked his life for us when he easily could have taken cover himself.

He replied, "Boy Scouts is a heck of a program." With that he leaned down and told me his name was "Matt" and to yell for him if I needed anything. He then rushed off to help others.

It was at this time that I looked around at the once clean hospital. It was a sight I will never forget.

I joined another woman who was holding two children, one who could not have been more than two-months-old. She was in the same predicament.

Every time the lights flashed, we saw debris everywhere, people lying on the floor and wires hanging from the ceiling. It was worse than any movie I had ever seen.

The noise of the emergency siren--the one located in the hospital--was overwhelming, as well as the smell of natural gas. People began screaming that another tornado was coming and both of us being in shock and others attempted to run through the mess, children in our arms.

I found Matt and told him what I had heard. He led us to a locker room that hadn't even lost a ceiling tile. I stood by the room fearing another hit, as Matt ran to collect others as he had done before.

Soon Matt returned with some nurses who told us to leave the area because of the gas leak. I could have walked by the same spot I had been before and not known it. The hospital all looked the same. Everywhere I looked was complete destruction.

I was led into a hallway with my daughter and told to stay. They had been evacuating people from upper floors down to this spot. I walked through the mess and found a doorway like the one before and squatted down with my daughter inside of it with a few people I did not know.

Concerned, I began asking if people on the upper floors were alive, afraid for my husband's life, fearing the worst. Nobody would or could answer me.

A woman a little old than I told me that I could sit with her while she nursed her baby. I had not fully weaned my daughter and did the same. I was able to give my daughter some form of comfort, as I watched the time on my phone inch by.

We sat in the flickering light and noise for a little over an hour. Thankfully my daughter went to sleep.

I was given an emergency blanket and offered water which I refused. The other nursing mother and I decided to walk until we saw light. We simply walked out of the side of the building.

Told to get away from the building by people taking charge, I stood in the parking lot and took a picture of the building. Looking up at the sky, I had never seen the clouds quite like this before.

In shock, I began screaming my husband's name and began checking out all the areas where people were being evacuated. I ran into a man actually talking on a phone. No other phones were working. After he ended his conversation, I asked him if I could use it. He agreed and more people began lining up for the only working phone. Why his worked I will never know. I wish I could tell you the brand but it was unimportant at the time. I phoned my mother-in-law who informed me that my husband was alive and that almost everyone in our family was on their way.

I still had not calmed down and began to become fearful of the clouds above me. I was yelling at passersby to give me shelter. I was asking any and everyone for help when a man wearing only pants came up to me and asked me what I needed. I told him I did not know, and he told me he was going to take my daughter and me to an emergency vehicle, but it was a long walk. I agreed. We walked just about half a mile. He offered to carry my daughter and even helped me over glass.

When we arrived at the emergency vehicle we were informed that we would be taken to Memorial Hall. But I hesitated, wanting to wait for my parents. I know now that my erratic and confused behavior is common in people in a state of shock.

I finally got into the emergency vehicle next to a man with oxygen. He asked me if I was with anyone. I told him my husband and that I could not find him.

I stared out of the window. We backed up several times, not making it more than a block without having to turn around constantly. The destruction was gut wrenching.

Fortunately, after only about five minutes, I saw my husband sitting on a curb in the rain, just staring. I began to cry and yell that I saw my husband, and without hesitation the driver, a woman, stopped and asked me his name. I replied "Adam." She yelled "Adam" a few times. My husband looked at her confused until she yelled, "I have your wife." I had never seen my husband cry, as he cried. We both did. He ran to me diaper bag in hand and we embraced in the van with everyone happy that we had reunited.

"Why didn't you cover up with the baby's blanket?" "How did you hold on to this in the tornado?" I wanted to know. He shook his head and explained through tears that he was saving the blanket for her in case she was cold or wet and that the bag was all he had of us and it gave him a small form of comfort.

We rode together to Memorial Hall in silence, hand in hand, kissing, now smiling and playing with the baby. By the time we arrived, my mother-in-law was stepping out of a truck. We waited for the rest of our family, hugged and then returned to Lockwood with them.

My husband since has been treated for his hernia. We are both getting counseling. We so far have not been back "home" to Joplin even though our apartment was okay. We had lost our car and everything in it. We only had liability insurance. But we came out of this so blessed and protected by God.

About a week after the tornado, I phoned St. John's to ask about the man. All I knew was that his name was "Matt," he was a nurse and he worked at St. John's. The woman who answered me knew him. She corrected me on one bit of information. "He's just a cafeteria worker," she said.

I left my name and number and Matt called me back that very same evening. We cried and recollected the night of the tornado.

He is my hero even though he modestly insisted he was just a "cafeteria worker." He was a hero to many others who found themselves in the middle of a tornado on the first floor of St. John's. I witnessed so much bravery from this individual.

He told me when we spoke that he saw my daughter's face when the emergency lights had flashed and felt something like a connection, and he will never forget my baby's face.

His name is Matt Hutchison. He is a food industry worker from St. John's Hospital and he saved my daughter's life and my own life. On April 17, 2012, Matt and I will tell our story at the Boy Scouts luncheon to be held in Joplin. I am happy to share the story of his bravery with others.

There are rainbows after a storm passes. I know this first hand. Praise God.

Commentary as told by Kourtney Grisham, Lockwood (formerly Joplin)

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