Oklahoma tornadoes: Destruction reunites Oklahoma family

by Phillip O'Connor Published: May 26, 2013
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“Oh Kevin,” he remembered her saying. “You're going to be OK. You're going to be OK. You're going to be OK.”

Then he overheard an emergency responder.

“He needs to be airlifted out of here.”

For Kevin, it confirmed he might not be OK. Despite the pain, Kevin said he would rather go by ambulance and that he wanted to go to Norman Regional Hospital. Workers ferried him on a makeshift wood stretcher to a waiting ambulance where an attendant started an IV and gave him something for the pain. The ambulance doors closed.

***

What seemed like just seconds after the twister roped out and lifted near Lake Stanley Draper, Mark Troxell's phone rang. Another brother, Doug, was on the line.

“Kevin was in the tornado, and he was tore up pretty bad,” Mark recalled his brother saying. They were taking him to OU Medical Center, his brother said.

Mark drove 25 minutes through pouring rain to the Oklahoma City hospital listening to storm coverage on the radio. He knew how violent the tornado had been. He knew his brother was badly hurt. He worried he might be too late.

The family had been close once, six boys and three girls raised by a stay-at-home mom and a truck driver dad who ran a salvage yard in Midwest City before moving the family to south Oklahoma City. But their dad died in 1973, and when his wife followed in 2002, the glue that bound the family was gone.

Grown and with families of their own, the Troxell children saw less and less of each other as the years went by. Mark hadn't seen Kevin in a couple months. Now, he feared he might never see him again.

Mark pulled into the parking lot and saw another brother, Coy, walking toward the hospital doors. They hurried together to the emergency room. A nurse took down Kevin's name. They sat in a crowded waiting room where they watched television coverage of the tornado.

***

Soon after, Kathy's sister and brother-in-law arrived, then Kathy, in tears. She'd also been contacted by a family member who told her Kevin was taken to the downtown hospital. It was about 5:30 p.m.

Mark Troxell said over a 90-minute span he asked about his brother no less than 10 times.

“They kept saying they didn't know anything,” he said.

Finally, he insisted on talking to a supervisor. Another hospital employee took Kevin's name and said she'd check a list. But she also told them they may want to start checking other hospitals.

“They're going everywhere,” she said of the dozens of tornado victims taken to hospitals that day.

By now the group was growing frantic. They knew how severe the tornado had been and that Kevin was badly injured. They thought he'd been transported here and was receiving treatment. What were they supposed to do? The group huddled. What if Kevin's not even here? What if we don't find him in time? Should we split up and go to different hospitals? They were looking for telephone numbers when the hospital employee returned and told them that Kevin's name was on a list of injured people who had been transported to a hospital, but that she couldn't be certain it was to this hospital.

Just then, Kathy's brother-in-law told the group he'd found Kevin. He was in the Norman Regional Healthplex, off Interstate 35 and Tecumseh Road in Norman. Still uncertain of his condition, they piled into their cars for what they expected to be a 30-minute drive.

***

In the emergency room, Kevin listened to a doctor do a quick survey of his injuries. A broken left leg, multiple lacerations to the arms, legs, chest, back and face, a gaping wound across the back of his head and a half-dollar-size hole where a tree limb appeared to have pierced completely through his lower leg. He needed surgery.

***

Stuck in traffic, low on gas, her cellphone battery dying, Kathy was frantic. About 7:30 p.m. her phone rang. A niece told her Kevin's brother, Jeff, was with Kevin. They were not at the Healthplex, but at Norman Regional Medical Center a few miles away. Kathy called Jeff, who handed the phone to Kevin.

He told her he was headed into surgery. He thought his leg was broken. A sense of relief washed over Kathy. He's hurt but alive, she thought.

“I'm trying to get to you as fast as I can,” she told him.

When she reached the hospital about two hours later, a dozen friends and family had gathered. Not long after, Kevin emerged from surgery. As he was being wheeled back to his room, Kathy said their eyes “just locked.”

He was battered and still blood-streaked. His head rested on a dirt-stained pillow. She watched a bug crawl from his hair. She told him she loved him and she thanked God he was alive.

“I tried to call,” he told her.

She laughed.

***

Mark Troxell arrived not long after. He saw his brother's heavily bandaged leg, swollen face, the scrapes, cuts, bumps and bruises. He gently held his left hand.

“How you doing?” Mark asked.

He stayed an hour. As he left, he again held his brother's hand.

“I love you,” Mark said.

***

On Thursday, Kevin Troxell sat in his hospital room and reflected.

“I feel like I've lived through something I wasn't supposed to live through,” he said.

He'd had a second surgery to clean bark, dirt and other debris from his leg. He faces what could be a long recovery. His dream home is gone. He doesn't know where he and Kathy will live.

“There's a lot heartache coming down the road,” he acknowledged.

Still, he's heartened by the love he's felt the past few days, the stream of visitors, the emotional moments he's shared with his family. In some ways, he feels the ordeal strengthened his relationship with his brothers and sisters.

“It would be terrible for a person to go through a lot of things and find out there's no one out there that gives a damn,” he said. “It's a real good feeling somebody out there cares about you. It did let me know how much each and every one of these people care about Kevin Troxell.”

by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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