May 25th, 2011
12:05 PM ET

From tornado to hospital, prayer sustains Missouri family

By Eric Marrapodi and Brian Todd, CNN

Joplin, Missouri (CNN) - It’s quiet here. The only sound in the hospital room is the steady hum of a ventilator pushing air into Lage Grigsby’s lungs. It’s a stark contrast to the haunting noise of Sunday's Joplin tornado, which put him here.

Lage’s father, James Grigsby, sits by his 14-year-old son’s bedside anxiously keeping vigil, praying and hoping his boy will pull through OK. Lage is in a medically induced coma.

He has an open skull fracture and a broken vertebra in his neck. His doctors suspect he may have a brain injury and be partially paralyzed but they don’t yet know for sure. There’s a chance he won’t be able to kick a soccer ball again - or even be able to remember a time when he did.

Lage his family live one town over from Joplin, in Neosho, Missouri. On Sunday, Lage was with his grandparents and cousin, Mason, at the Home Depot in Joplin. His grandfather parked his red dual-wheeled pickup truck at the front entrance and quickly ran in to deal with a refund on some wires he picked up earlier.

“My daughter told me they spotted one on the ground,” said Sharon Lillard, Lage’s grandmother, recalling how word of the tornado quickly spread via cell phone. She was still in the truck with Lage and Mason.

“We was getting ready to get out and go into the store but the wind was blowing so hard we couldn’t even get out of the vehicle,” she said.

They watched as orange shopping carts took flight.

“I turned around and pushed my grandkids down to the floorboard,” she said. “I kept telling them, ‘We need to pray. God’s going to take care of us.’ ”

The windows in the truck shattered, sending glass flying into Lillard’s back. She bit her tongue; she didn’t want to scare her grandchildren.

“Then all of a sudden we felt the truck go in the air.”

“All I kept saying was ‘God protect us,’” Lillard said. “Because that’s all we had was God to protect us. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

The one-ton truck was picked up like a ball and thrown into the Home Dept’s outdoor garden section, a football field and a half away from where they had parked. It landed by the lawnmowers.

“All I could do is pray someone would find us quick because I couldn’t do any screaming or anything because my head was pushed into the seat.”

Besides the glass in her back, Lillard had a broken arm. Mason was injured, too. A piece of rebar had gone through her shoulder and out her back.

Lage had been thrown from the truck and landed outside, nearby.

The Home Depot was completely destroyed, an unrecognizable mass of tangled rebar and concrete. A number of bodies have since been pulled from the store's wreckage.

Rescuers quickly found Lage, his grandmother and his cousin. They cut Mason out of the truck and rushed Lage to nearby Freeman Health System, the Joplin hospital spared by the half-mile wide tornado (the city’s other hospital, St. John's Regional Medical Center, was badly damaged.)

“When he presented he had a dilated pupil, which is a serious neuralgic problem, indicating that the person is about to neurologically die," said Lage’s nuerosurgeon, Dr. Arthur Daus.

The news provoked Lage’s dad to pray hard: “Don’t take my son, Lord,” James Grigsby prayed, “please don’t take my son.”

Dr. Daus preformed six hours of surgery to save Lage’s life, removing parts of dead brain tissue and the skull to allow the brain to swell.

There’s a chance Lage will regain his cognitive function, Daus said, but it will require a near miracle.

Hospital staff quietly come in and out of Lage’s room at the intensive care unit, where the boy lies still except for the occasional twitch of his leg or squeeze of his dad’s hand. A bandage covers his head.

They had to shave his long brown hair, styled like Justin Bieber - though his dad said Lage would hate it if you described it that way.

"It really disheartens me, because I'm used to seeing him happy and so vibrant,” Grigsby said. “He's a very energetic boy,” Grigsby said, holding his son’s hand.

"This isn't the boy who walks up behind me and goes 'Dad, can I get on the computer? Dad, can I play the X-box? Dad, can I go and ride my bike?"

Through the pain and anxiety, Grigsby said his faith remains firm. The family regularly attends the Church of Christ in Neosho.

“We’re a very Christian-bound family,” Grigsby said. Lage, who has four siblings, is active in the Royal Rangers, a Christian version of the Boy Scouts.

“The hard part about this is I know God’s hand has been in this and works through this,” Grigsby said. “He is here and is at least with us at this point.”

Grigsby says he praying for his neighbors, too.

"I know there's probably people out there who are going to be disheartened by this—I got to keep my son and they may not have,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Missouri

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.