JACKSON, Tenn. - 5/29/2008 -
By WENDY ISOM
Story and photos online at JacksonSun.com
Union's roommates on mend after hours trapped in rubble
Kevin Furniss and Matt Kelley expected to learn about faith at Union University, but they also got an unexpected lesson in survival.
Roommates Furniss, 21, and Kelley, 20, were trapped for several hours under Watters Commons when the Feb. 5 tornado hit their campus.
"When we were underground, he was to the right of me," Furniss said.
If one of them would try to move, the other one would feel pain. Since they could not reposition their bodies, they concentrated on refocusing their thoughts.
They sang hymns, prayed and encouraged each other to stay hopeful until they were rescued.
"Psalm 40: 1-5, that pretty much sums up that night," Furniss said.
The first three verses of that Scripture reads: "I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord."
Furniss, a Christian studies major, had served as an interim youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Somerville from November 2006 to May 2007.
That is where he and Kelley met. Kelley and his family are members of the church.
Kelley, a business major and member of the golf team, later recognized Furniss on Union's campus. They talked, became friends and decided to be roommates last fall. Both are sports enthusiasts.
Furniss spent six days in Jackson-Madison County General Hospital after the rescue. He had a sprained ankle and his left thigh was crushed. Furniss had numbness in both legs. Eventually, he regained feeling in his legs.
"I started walking after three days," he said. "I'm still building strength in my legs and back."
Furniss, returned to Union this semester as a junior and has been able to play some racquetball. Kelley, a sophomore, is still at home in Somerville recovering from his injuries.
Kelley had a crushing injury to both legs. He had to have eight incisions cut in his legs to avoid amputation. Both of his kidneys also shut down. He was on dialysis for three weeks before his kidney functioning returned.
He was just released Friday from seeing kidney specialist Dr. Luke Wright at the Jackson Clinic, said his mother, Candy Kelley.
"When the building came in on them, Kevin and Matt were back to back," Candy Kelley said. "A wooden beam came down on his (Matt's) neck," but "his neck was not broken."
Candy Kelley said her son remembers the entire four-and-a-half-hour ordeal of being trapped.
They did not realize just how much weight surrounded them.
"Within the first hour, he lost feelings in his legs," Candy Kelley said. Later, Matt Kelley found out that "I actually had two Coke machines that were above my head while I was under the rubble.
"It was actually holding up a concrete slab," he said.
Kevin Furniss' father, Bob Furniss, went back to take pictures of the area where the two students were found. Two Coke machines are visible in one picture with a concrete slab on top of them.
Kelley stayed in the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital for two and a half months. He is still working toward regaining his strength and feeling in both legs. He feels tingling and pain in both of his feet. Kelley cannot flex his left foot up or down. On the right foot, he can only flex his foot down. That makes walking difficult.
The hospital staff still calls to check on him, she said.
On May 25, Matt will turn 21. "It's going to be a very memorable one," his mother said.
"I appreciate things a lot more," Matt Kelley said.
Most of all, Matt and Kevin look forward to being roommates again this fall.
"I plan on coming back in the fall. I'm excited about the new dorms," Kelley said.
This fall will be Furniss' senior year. Furniss said he and the other men who were trapped in the rubble have stayed in contact. Of the seven young men trapped, Matt was next to the last pulled out. Injuries ranged from a few scrapes to crushed legs.
"I've gotten so close to those guys. It's going to make it hard to leave Jackson," said Furniss, who lives in Memphis.
Kelley and Furniss had the opportunity to see some of new dorms under construction last week when a group of students were invited back to write messages on the concrete floor of a new dorm.
Kelley returned with his parents.
"He was excited to be there," Candy Kelley said. "He wrote his name and '08."
Kelley, a member of Union golf's team, used to play golf every day.
Now, his daily routine includes physical therapy. He plays a lot of sports video games. He said he didn't get a Wii until after he was injured.
"It's fun. It's a workout," he said about his golf Wii game.
"My goal is to be able to get back on the golf course and play golf again," Kelley said.
He lives across from a golf course. "I've actually taken my golf cart and driven out there," he said.
Kelley has an appointment Tuesday at the Semmes-Murphey Clinic in Memphis to learn the extent of his nerve damage.
"That's what we've asked a lot of prayer for," Candy Kelley said.
Candy Kelley said some people have asked how she feels about her son returning to the place where it all happened.
But she doesn't look at Union as the place where he was hurt: "This is where Matt was saved," she said.
Matt's youngest sister, Christin, a high school junior, may also be at Union in the future.
"Believe it or not, she talks about Mississippi State or Union," Candy Kelley said. "I think she saw how much people care at Union."
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- Wendy Isom, 425-9782
Phone: (731) 661-5027
Fax: (731) 661-5182