New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

This day has a great emotional impact on Joplin residents who lived here in 2011. Seven years ago a massive EF5 tornado destroyed a third of my city, killing 161 people and injuring many more. Homes, businesses, schools, parks, cars, animals and trees were gone in moments. I can’t forget what happened, nor do I want to.

I woke up this morning feeling the heaviness that accompanies this day. There’s a pall that hangs over the city as people remember, grieve and feel the strong swirl of emotions. There is gratitude as well, thankfulness for survival, for the rebuilding that has been accomplished, and for the indomitable spirit of this community.

I didn’t intend to share anything today, about life post 5.22.11, however, I’ve had some fresh insights in the last few months, about some some health trends I’ve observed in survivors of that horrific event. It seems this is the story I’m to share.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as an emotional condition that can develop after a traumatic event, particularly an event that involves actual or threatened death, serious bodily injury to oneself or to others, and creates intense feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

Many lived with PTSD after the tornado. Fears of storms, dying, losing a loved one or a pet, losing a home, or loud noises were natural responses to the devastation that occurred. I experienced the disorder myself and still get uneasy during bad weather. My daughter Adriel lost her home and vehicles and most of her possessions that day and still deals with storm related anxieties. Even my grandchildren, who were not directly in the path of the storm but rode it out in the fringes, experienced PTSD in the aftermath. They witnessed the effects of the tornado and understood the emotional toll on survivors.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

In the past two years, as I changed my eating habits and moved into greater health and well-being, I’ve understood the serious and often overlooked effects of PTSD. Beyond causing anxiety and fear, this disorder is contributing to poor health and an increase in autoimmune disorders and mystery illnesses in survivors.

Physically, stress creates a flight or fight response. Adrenaline floods the body as a result, to aid in running from danger or fighting an enemy. When we continue to live under stress we also live with too much adrenaline in our system. So anxiety sticks around and becomes chronic. Those continual bursts of fear-based adrenaline feed the viruses that inhabit our bodies…Epstein Barr, shingles and strep. The viruses in turn release an abundance of neurotoxins that keep the anxiety going. It’s a vicious cycle…and it’s making people sick.

I realized recently that my chronic sciatica pain, which began after the trauma of a car accident in 1995, increased after the second trauma of the tornado. My health began a downward spiral after 5.22.11 that ultimately caused me to begin walking with a cane in 2015. I am grateful for the turn around that came for me after learning how to feed my body while starving the viruses.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

What about those who haven’t found the connection between a healthy diet and healing? I’ve watched as a close friend, who survived the tornado but lost her husband that day, has greatly deteriorated, health wise. She had injuries as a result of the storm. Those healed. But in the years since the tornado she has partially lost her sight and her ability to balance or to drive. She has aged beyond her years, and currently uses a walker due to extreme weakness in her legs. Doctors are puzzled by her symptoms and have ruled out Parkinson’s and several other diseases. They use the words autoimmune, mystery illness and worse. She has been told she is crazy, seeking attention or making up her illness.

I’ve offered her compassion and also suggestions for changing her diet to improve her health. To heal from PTSD, the brain needs to build up its glucose reserves. Good glucose is needed, found in fruits and vegetables, not the sugar found in sweets, which leads to a crash later. And it helps to create new experiences to replace negative ones and to serve as positive reference points in life. Journaling about favorable experiences, gratitudes and even small adventures changes perceptions and calms an overactive brain.

I talked to my friend on the phone this evening, letting her know I was thinking of her today. I was pleased to hear that she is gaining strength in her legs and eating less meat, dairy, and eggs. Her voice was more clear and best of all, she felt a sense of closure today, seven years after having her world, literally, torn apart.

New Joplin Library at 20th & Connecticut

I share tonight in case there are those reading this who experienced the 2011 tornado and are confused today about their worsening health or who are hearing diagnoses of mystery illnesses or autoimmune disorders. Or perhaps you know someone who continues to suffer when others feel they should be “over it”. Post traumatic stress syndrome is real. It has a powerfully negative effect on the body, feeding viruses most of us are playing host to, and contributing to poor health.

Know that there is hope. Joplin has risen from the rubble and been reborn. The city is growing…stronger, healthier, more beautiful. Her people can do the same. Reach out to me, if you want to know more. We can heal, together.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

The House That Hope and Love Built

Today I hosted an open house in a gorgeous custom home. This newer home is filled with light and it is spacious, with 5 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, an office and a formal dining room, and a basement that creates the perfect suite for guests or an older child. There is also a large storm shelter in the basement, an addition that was once rare in Joplin but is now found in many new homes. 

Like all of the neighboring houses, Connor House was built after the May 22, 2011 tornado that ravaged Joplin. It stands on the site of the former residence, a testament of survival, perseverance and grace. This is the house that hope and love built. 

I asked the sellers to write about their experience. They agreed, and graciously gave me permission to share their story. 

May 22, 2011 was supposed to be a happy and special day of celebration at our home, but — like hundreds of other families that day — our house was destroyed in the Joplin EF-5 tornado. Located just a block from the center of the storm, only a few tattered walls remained of our one-level, three bedroom house after the tornado ripped through the area. Thankfully, those precious walls happened to be the ones in which our family had taken shelter. 

As a family of Serbian descent, May 22nd has been an important day for our family long before the tornado ever hit our house. May 22 happens to be the date of our family’s Krsna Slava (or “Slava” for short).

Slava is an exclusively Serbian custom that dates back to the 9th century and commemorates the conversion of a family’s ancestors/clan from paganism to Christianity when missionaries spread the gospel to their area hundreds of years ago. Each year, Slava is a day marked by various Serbian traditions, including opening one’s home to friends and family. The Slava tradition is handed down from Serbian fathers to their sons through each generation. 

And so, in 2011, May 22nd began with typical Slava preparations at our house. It was a beautiful day, and I woke up early to bake the traditional Slava bread and to make other preparations for the large, multi-course dinner that we were to enjoy that evening. All through the day, our house was filled with sounds of love, laughter, and celebration as everyone worked in the kitchen and enjoyed being together. 

About an hour before dinner, we gathered together in the living room for the traditional Slava blessing. It was a special time, and we all said the Lord’s Prayer together as a family. Just hours later, as the tornado ripped the house apart, that prayer is something that I treasured. As death loomed over us, I thought, “What a gift… We got to pray our Lord’s prayer together as a family in our home right before we meet Him face to face in our heavenly home.”

At about 5 pm, we had just sat down to our beautiful dinner, when suddenly the tornado sirens went off. It was certainly unexpected and inconvenient, but I took normal precautions just in case. The children and I went into our small laundry room, located in the center of the house because we did not have a basement at the time. Soon after, the rest of family came running.

Nine people crammed into the tiny laundry room — children huddled on the floor and curled up on top of the washer… adults linked arms and covered children. There was no time or extra space to even close the door. 

And suddenly the storm was upon us.

Adults prayed. Children cried. 

The darkness was terrifying. The sounds were horrific… windows shattering, trees falling, the front of the house getting crushed like a can.

And when the roof ripped off of the house, it took with it my last shred of hope that we would survive. 

And yet we did. Somehow. We were some of the lucky ones who got to climb out of the rubble and start a “post-tornado” life.

The first couple of months after the storm were hard, but eventually we found a new rhythm to life. And as we began thinking about the future and the best way to move forward, we decided that our recovery needed to include rebuilding our home. Like a phoenix from the ashes, we wanted a lovely home to stand on the very spot where our lives had almost ended but were spared. 

Rebuilding the house at 2425 S. Connor Avenue was therapeutic on so many levels. Lots of love and thought went into the planning, and with every board that went up, the heartache receded just a bit. 

Although the house is much larger than the previous one that stood in that spot for so many years, we did incorporate a few touches that pay homage to the original house — white kitchen cabinets, dark hardwood floors, and similar tile flooring. 

We chose the interior paint colors based on an original oil painting created by a Springfield artist to commemorate God’s protection of our family during the tornado. The painting — entitled “Salvation” — currently hangs over the fireplace.

We purchased the empty lots on both sides of the house, knowing that a large, lovely house needed a beautiful yard to go with it. 

Although our family’s future plans for the house — doing more landscaping and building a large family room on the north side of the house — will go unrealized, our greatest hope is that a new family will enjoy the house, make it their own, fill it with love and memories, and have their own stories to tell someday.

What a beautiful story. Tears filled my eyes when I read it. The light that fills Connor House transcends sunlight. It is the Divine light of protection, the light of peace, the light of love, permeating every room and illuminating every corner of the home. 

The next chapter is beginning in the lives of the sellers, taking them far from Joplin. Connor House welcomes new owners. 

May their story continue to unfold within those sheltering walls. 

Day 141: After the Storm: Joplin’s Lost Heritage


This week being the anniversary of Joplin’s 2011 tornado, there have been several memorial and storm related events offered. Today’s first, After the Storm: Joplin’s Lost Heritage, a presentation offered at the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, highlighted an aspect of loss, as a result of the tornado, that I had not thought about before.

Created and presented by Leslie Simpson, director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, this 15 minute overview of the historic losses within the stricken area of Joplin was informative and very well done. I live and work and shop in the tornado zone. I know firsthand how the neighborhoods have changed. What I didn’t realize is that important pieces of Joplin’s heritage are gone, destroyed in 32 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.

Leslie focused on three sections of Joplin that were devastated, beginning with the Blendville area. Originally a mining community, Blendville was established in 1876, and was west of our current Main Street, extending to Maiden Lane. Thomas Cunningham owned the residential section, which he divided into lots and sold at low prices to miners. Hundreds of affordable shotgun style homes were built in this area so that miners could purchase them. Cunningham Park was named after Thomas, who donated the land to the city, and was the first park in Joplin. It was heavily wooded at the time with gardens and walking trails. St. John’s hospital was located in this area of town, built over abandoned mine shafts. The tornado wiped out most of the Blendville area, including the hospital and a large portion of the medical community.

The next section Leslie talked about included Schifferdecker’s First Addition, a residential area that began to be developed in 1900. Craftsman style homes and bungalows lined the streets of this neighborhood. The Joplin Globe referred to the area lying south of 20th Street and including Wall, Joplin, and Main Streets as “a beautiful new addition affording the most desirable building property” to be found anywhere in the city. Most of these homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the storm. Included in this district, and taken out by the tornado, was Irving Elementary School, which has been rebuilt on Maiden Lane.  St. Mary’s Catholic Church was destroyed as well, except for the exterior cross that remained standing after the storm, becoming an icon of hope. The cross remains still.


Schifferdecker’s Second Addition, which lies south of 20th Street and includes Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky Avenues, was in the second section as well. As the city progressed eastward, in the early 1900’s through the 1930’s, the houses became a mix of Victorians, Colonial Revivals, Tudors and the ever present bungalows. Further east, in the third area shown in the presentation, development progressed from the 1940’s – 70’s. This section covered Grand Avenue to Range Line, and encompassed the Eastmoreland area. The dominant housing style was the ranch house. Churches sprang up in this area in the 60’s, and early commercial development began with the Bel-Aire Shopping Center on the corner of 20th and Range Line.

Several large homes existed in this area, including James Campbell’s estate, which included riding stables and a lake. Dillion’s Grocery Store stood on the spot the lake once occupied. The store is gone, now, along with this section with its eclectic mix of homes. The churches have been rebuilt. Bel-Aire, which was completely destroyed, just recently completed construction on a new center.

Leslie showed a before picture of Kentucky Avenue, lined with trees and houses. All those trees were obliterated as well. This is my neighborhood. These are the streets my children rode their bikes on. I walked my dog past those houses that no longer exist. Rebuilding has flourished in all three of these sections, with new houses and businesses continuing to appear. What I had not considered before today was that with the destruction of these homes and business buildings, historical structures were lost, and will not be recovered. The recently constructed houses look great. Yet they are new. The charm, the character, the architecture are gone, reduced with the structures to rubble, and hauled away.

Thankfully, even as new stories are being told, the old stories remain. And Leslie Simpson had the compassion and ability to capture for us this flow of history that was once evident as one traveled from west Joplin, eastward. I am grateful.