Our house blowed away, and Mama became a hero
Published: May 15, 2006 | 4140th good news item since 2003
Amy Hawkins believes she will walk again, though her doctors tell her differently.
Sometimes, she wheels away from them, her chin stubbornly set. God willing, she says, a wheelchair won’t be her legs forever.
Amy Hawkins, paralyzed from her waist down during a tornado last month, has two reasons to walk — her sons, Jair, 6, and Cole, 3.
Her love for her sons is so great that Amy almost died so they could live when their home came thundering down during the deadly storm.
Amy lives apart from the boys for now, in the Shepherd Center, a rehab hospital in Atlanta. The boys and their father aretemporarily living in a donated yellow farmhouse their mom has never seen.
Amy, 34, no longer remembers April 7, the day of the tornado. Her husband, Jerrod, her family, her friends, even her sons, have helped re-create the day for her.
“Our house blowed away and Mama became a hero, didn’t she, Papa,” Jair says. “She covered us so we wouldn’t be hurt, didn’t she, Papa.”
The back story begins with Amy tracking the tornadoes that lashed the Midstate that day.
She was standing on the deck at her Hendersonville home. Jerrod was at work at the Brentwood Fire Department, tracking the tornadoes himself.
When he saw that one was headed toward his home, he called Amy.
Her last words to him were something like, “I know it’s here. Gotta go.”
Jerrod tried for 45 minutes to call Amy back. “I was thinking she dropped her phone,” he says.
Then he received a call from a neighbor: The boys were OK, but his wife was badly hurt.
At first, the neighbor hadn’t been able tofind Amy, Jair and Cole in the rubble, but on a second search he saw Cole’s face in the corner of what was left of the Hawkins’ basement.
He saw an unconscious Amy, an arm wrapped around each boy, her body shielding them from the debris.
Amy was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the boys to the children’s hospital there. Amy had a head injury, lacerations that required at least 50 staples, and a severed spine. Surgeons have since placed a steel rod down her back.
Later, Amy asked Jerrod if she’d been in a wreck.
“I remember nothing that happened on the day of the tornado,” she says. “I have a chunk out of my life. … But I know some of my ribs were crushed every time I try to take a deep breath.”
On an X-ray of her left side last week, her ribs looked like a crumbled cookie.
“Though she’s in terrible pain,” Jerrod says, “I’ve never heard her say a negative word. … I know the therapy she’s getting in Atlanta hurts her, but she keeps trying. … She calls the boys every morning and every night.”
The dad tries to keep their sons’ lives as routine as possible, taking Jair to baseball practice and Cole to soccer. His mom helps him tend to the boys, who have never had an official baby sitter because Amy and Jerrod, onetime college sweethearts, have always doted on their boys’ company.
The boys have been to see their mother twice and will go again today.
On their first visit, Amy’s wheelchair scared her sons, but it wasn’t long before they were giving their mom all the hugs she had missed.
Jerrod Hawkins isn’t back at work yet; he’s tending the boys and driving back and forth to see Amy.
“I will be in the hospital for a while,” Amy says. “Doctors want me here until June, then they want me as an outpatient, coming back for therapy every day. I had rather have Jerrod with the boys, watching them, than I would want him here with me.”
Amy’s mom stays with her and will until Amy gets to come home to Tennessee, tentatively in August.
Jerrod and Amy plan to rebuild their home. The first thing Amy wants in the plans: a safe room for her sons.
At night, the boys say their prayers with a picture of their mom between them. Amy goes to sleep similarly, kissing her fingertips, then pressingthe kisses on pictures of the boys.
She also goes to sleep with the most important element of all: high hopes.
She dreams of running the bases with Jair and of kicking the soccer ball with Cole.
“I want to walk,” she says, “not for me as much as I do for my two sons. I love those boys. I miss giving them their haircuts, taking them out for pizza.
“I’m not a hero … I’m just my boys’ mama.”