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Plaza Towers teacher names newborn after student killed in May 20 tornado

Jennifer Doan, captured in iconic photograph, gives birth to a boy.
by Juliana Keeping Modified: January 5, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: January 5, 2014

Jennifer Doan laid a comforting hand on the back of crying third-grader Nicolas McCabe and told him it was OK just as the twister struck.

Seven months later, Doan hasn't let Nicolas go.

The EF5 tornado on May 20 destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.

In what became an iconic photograph of the disaster, firefighters are shown freeing a debris-covered Doan from the rubble of a collapsed wall. Nine-year-old Nicolas and six other students who sought shelter in the same school hallway were killed.

Doan was 8 weeks pregnant when the tornado struck and was certain that her baby had not survived. On Dec. 21, she gave birth to a healthy boy. She and her husband named him Jack, simply because they liked how it sounded. For a middle name they chose something that carried deeper meaning. Nicolas.

“He was the one closest to me that didn't make it,” Doan said. “I had my hand on him. He's been a little hard to let go.”

As she spoke recently of her former student, Doan's soft voice trailed off. Her eyes filled with tears.

Storms and pain

Sitting in the living room of her Edmond home, Doan, 31, talked about her life since the tornado, her recovery and her decision to honor Nicolas. As she reflected, her two daughters, Kairi, 6, and Kylie, 3, fluttered about the baby. They patted his head and cheeks and smiled. Doan warned them to be very gentle with their new brother.

After the tornado, Doan spent several days in the hospital. She'd suffered a broken back and sternum, a strained neck and lacerated tendons in her hand. A piece of rebar had deeply cut her palm. For two days, at a psychologist's suggestion, no one told her which children were dead. During that time, Doan couldn't stop thinking about Nicolas. Immediately after the wall collapsed, students on either side of her had begun to talk and squirm. Not Nicolas. Under Doan's palm, he'd stopped moving.

When she finally learned that seven students had died, including six from her own class, her shrieks could be heard down the hospital's hallways.

Doan wore a back brace for six weeks following the disaster and, during the duration of her pregnancy, refused to take any pain medicine, worried it could hurt her growing baby.

“That made it harder,” she said.

But it wasn't just the physical pain.

“The mental part has been the hardest,” said Doan, who visits a psychiatrist once a week. “I would like to think I'm making some improvements there. He tells me I'm doing well for where I am, but, it's hard for me to feel that way. It's an ongoing process.”

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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