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Indiana woman who lost legs recalls terrifying tornado

by
Decker family (photo credit: ABC News)
Decker family (photo credit: ABC News)

By Susan Guyett

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - "I have to live for my kids," Stephanie Decker remembered telling herself as she waited, bleeding, for her son and daughter to get help when Friday's tornado tore apart her house and crushed her legs, which had to be amputated.

Decker, 36, fashioned a tourniquet to stanch the bleeding while she waited for 8-year-old son Dominic and 5-year-old daughter Reese, whom she had protected with her body, to get help. After help arrived, the next thing she knew, she woke up in the hospital.

"I'm doing well. I want my life back," Decker told a conference call with reporters Tuesday as she recuperated at University Hospital in Louisville after losing her legs protecting her two children.

She said she was no hero. "I call myself a mom," she said.

Decker's house in Henryville, Indiana, was in the path of a swarm of tornadoes that ripped through the nation's midsection on Friday, killing 39 people including 13 in Indiana.

Teams of federal and state officials were out assessing the damage, which was most severe in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Alabama.

As the storm approached, Decker herded her son and daughter into the basement, tied a comforter around them to keep them together, and covered them with her body.

"I knew this was going to be a bad storm," she remembered thinking. "This tornado is going to take us out."

The siblings didn't like being bundled up because it was hot and uncomfortable, she said.

Once the storm passed she realized her home was gone and that a steel beam had fallen on her legs. She asked her children if they were all right.

Reese said "yes," but she heard nothing from Dominic. In frustration she said, "I'm going to bust your butt" if he didn't answer, and he did.

She sent Dominic to get help and Reese got out as well. Decker fashioned a makeshift tourniquet and refused to close her eyes for fear she would die.

She dug her cell phone out of a pocket but was unable to make a call. Instead, she recorded a video message for her husband, Joe, in case she didn't survive.

The wait for help seemed endless but eventually she heard voices.

"I screamed as loud as I could. 'Help me. Help me. Help me.'"

Decker was taken to a local hospital and quickly flown to University Hospital in Louisville. "The next thing I knew I woke up and I was alive," she said.

Decker said she knows her life will not be the same but she has already set a goal of walking again in a few months.

"I'm the same person but I learned a lot," she said, adding that her children are a concern.

"I still worry how they are going to react" in the storm's aftermath, she said.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Greg McCune)

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