JACKSON, Tenn. – April 2, 2008– David Wilson and Matt Kelley were among hundreds of Union University students who experienced the 10 seconds that it took for a tornado to devastate the campus.
That night, Feb. 5, they found themselves trapped with numerous other students beneath piles of rubble in dorms that had taken on the look of a battlefield in Jackson, Tenn.
But it took several hours to rescue Wilson and Kelley.
Emergency crews rushed both students to Jackson-Madison County Hospital only to hear dire prognoses. To avoid amputation, doctors cut eight incisions in their legs -– two in each calf and two more in each thigh. Because of pressure on Wilson and Kelley's legs while they were trapped, doctors made the incisions to relieve pressure from swelling.
To Wilson and Kelley -– both athletes at Union -– the news concerning their legs was devastating. Wilson, a freshman chemistry major, is a soccer player from Chattanooga, while Kelley, a sophomore business major from Somerville, Tenn., plays golf.
"Basically, when the doctors cut open my legs that night, my muscles were ready to explode out of my skin," Wilson recounted.
Of 51 students sent to the hospital with injuries, only nine spent the night. Weeks later, only Kelley and Wilson remain hospitalized.
When entering Kelley's hospital room, the hum of medical machines fills the air. But one doesn't sense any uneasiness from Kelley. Quietly lying on his bed, he gladly greets visitors with a gentle smile and begins to tell the story of his recovery with an unconquerable confidence.
Kelley's doctor has said his recovery will be a marathon, not just a short race.
Both Kelley and Wilson's kidneys have been affected. Because of the amount of pressure and amount of time they were trapped, their kidneys were not able to flush out all the toxins on their own, so doctors ordered dialysis for both students. Both students are now off dialysis. Wilson, who was transported to a hospital in his hometown, has been told he soon will begin physical therapy to rehabilitate the use of his legs.
Wilson said his legs have returned to their normal size and all incisions on his legs have been closed. Kelley, however, has had only two incisions closed on his legs but is able to stand with help.
"The feeling is coming back in my legs," Wilson said, "but my right foot is still tender and hurting. The doctors put in a nerve block to help with pain in my legs, but I might have another one put in to help even more."
Kelley is not doing as well physically, but emotionally, both men say they are improving each day. When talking to Kelley and Wilson, an outsider who knew nothing of this tragedy would never know the grief both men have overcome already. They attribute their peace and calm to God in the midst of a physical and emotional storm.
"We have so much to be thankful for," Kelley said. "We don't appreciate everything we have until we face a tragedy like this."
"I've learned I have to trust God," Wilson said. "He will help me through everything I face."
In the midst of their recovery, both men say prayer has been the foundation of their improvement. With long days of therapy ahead, both continue to welcome prayers from the Union community and other believers.
"Everyone has been extremely supportive [of us] through prayer," Kelley said. "I just ask that they continue to pray for us."
Both men acknowledge the journey ahead toward full recovery will not be easy. They say they yearn to be able to go home but realize their physical improvement must come first. Both say they will return to Union in the fall with plans of continuing with their pre-tornado lives -– what some would call "normal" -– and returning to the soccer field for Wilson and the golf course for Kelley.
By Claire Yates ('09)