Henryville woman suffers leg injuries shielding kids from tornado

Stephanie Decker

A Henryville woman is talking about the storm that changed her life. Stephanie Decker lost part of both legs while shielding her children from the tornado last Friday.

Alone in their new home with a tornado approaching, Stephanie Decker knew the only chance she and the kids had of surviving was to wrap them in a blanket and lie on top of them.

"I was around my children, holding them tight as the pillars, the steel beams, the bricks, everything from the house was hitting me in the back," Stephanie said. "But I had my children in the blanket and I was on top of them and I was reaching around holding them. And they are screaming, 'Mommy, I can't live without you! I don't want to die! Please don't let me die!' And I said, 'You're not going to die. We're going to make it.'

"I just did what my instincts told me and I didn't know if it was right or wrong, but I wanted to survive and I want them to survive."

When the storm cleared, their home was gone. Stephanie and her children were buried in the rubble.

"Looked at my leg and realized either it was cut off or it was barely attached. I took my phone and I made a video to my husband, telling him that I love him," she said. "It will be a long time, if we ever look at it."

That's when eight-year-old Dominic climbed out of the rubble and ran for help. A neighbor, Sheriff's Deputy Brian Lovins, came running with friends to find Stephanie bleeding heavily.

"She's like, 'I'm dying, I'm dying.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I ain't gonna let you die,'" he said.

Realizing her leg was severed, Lovins grabbed a belt to use as a tourniquet. It saved her life.

"Her kids were able to get out and call for help so her kids saved her life," he said.

"I prayed to have the strength to survive," said Stephanie. "I wanted these kids to have a mom and that I did not want them to grow up without me."

"To me, I got my kids because of her," said Stephanie's husband, Joe.

Stephanie's children were not injured.

"I call myself a mom. I call myself a mom. I mean, I just love my kids," Stephanie said. "I'm just a mom. I just wanted to do anything I could to protect them and I think any parent would."

When he's not at the hospital with Stephanie, Joe has been back to see the remains of his family's home. That is when his wife's courage becomes real for him, when he sees the bricks and steel his wife used her body to protect his children from.

"She'd do anything for the kids. She's Mama Bear. She's protective of them and she takes care of them and I never had a question that if that was the situation, she'd do it all over again," Joe said.

He said he thought the partial amputations would devastate his wife, who he said "is such an active person." But Stephanie says that's not going to change.

"I want to walk and the doctors told me, 'Three months, you'll be up and walking.' I told them 'two months.' I want my life back," she said. "It hurts. It's painful, but you know, anything worth fighting for is, I think."

She never knows that more than when she looks at Dominic and Reese, not only alive, but without a scratch on them, because their mother was there to protect them.

"I focused on holding them," Stephanie said.