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March 2012 tornado coverage

April 14, 2012

FAMILY TIES HOLDING STRONG: Life for Gilles family slowly returning to normal post-tornado

HENRYVILLE — The Gilles family are learning to cope with life in transition. Since the March 2 tornado picked up and demolished their Henryville home, their initial focus has been on survival and health.

They spent the first couple of weeks dealing with various injuries and logistics as they were released from the hospital, one-by-one. Trish was the last family member to leave the hospital/rehabilitation facility March 27.

She talked her doctors into being released early by promising, “I will work even harder in rehabilitation if I can just be sleeping under the same roof as my babies.”

Trish is now staying with family and living under the same roof as her three children and husband, Darrell.

Trish has been enduring extreme pain from her injuries. The discomfort has been so intense that sleep has been predominately elusive. Although she struggles to stay alert throughout the day, she manages a bright smile and welcome to visitors and friends. On the day of our interview, Trish appeared calm and confident as she and her family talked about what lies ahead.

Darrell admits to being a bit hard-headed when it comes to his personal medical concerns. He has been told he may need additional surgeries on his jaw; however, he isn’t sure he will have the time or energy to follow through. Although not healed from his own injuries, Darrell is ready to get back to work for Kaiser Flooring.

“There are only three of us who do the same job and two guys are now doing their work and mine, and that isn’t right,” Darrell said, his face showing the conflict he feels between starting back to work or staying with Trish until she is completely healed.

He remembers that fateful March day when Trish and the children were physically torn from his arms. Seriously injured, Darrell was barely able to gather the children and guide them to safety from the next punishing phase of the storm. As they stumbled up the hill, his wife of more than 13 years lay in the rubble, unable to move. Darrell sent immediate help to shield her from the hailstorm.

Every day and night since the hospital nurses pushed their beds together after their surgeries, Darrell has not left Trish’s side. He explained, “I knew the kids were stable and being cared for by family, but I needed to watch over Trish.”

The children are back in school now and appear light-hearted and full of energy. There are no visible signs of medical or health issues except for the bulkiness of Caleb’s back brace under his T-shirt. Caleb said he has little pain from the breaks in his back and hopes to stop wearing the brace in a month. He is more than ready to shed the hard plastic shell, allowing him to wrestle and play with his cousins and friends. To quote the precocious and teasing Caleb, “I’m ready to beat up on my cousins again.”

Mia, the youngest, is happy to be back in school with her cousins and friends. She is doing well after her head injury and has had no further seizures. She giggled when asked if she wanted to say anything to the readers and quickly stated, “Tell them thank you for everything!” She smiled as she told of how the first day of school began, “The teachers and others blew bubbles at us when we got to school … it was really fun.”

Collin is wrapping up spring training for the baseball season, with equipment donated to Henryville by local businesses. He talks of his team and coach and how ready he is to play their first game. As he munched on chocolate Easter rabbit ears, Collin expressed his appreciation, “I am grateful for everything people are doing for us, especially for the prayers.”

People have been kind and caring and the family is extremely humbled and thankful. Trish and Darrell are amazed at how much encouragement and help they are getting from people all over the country, including those who have been through similar tragedies.

A woman who survived the tornado in Joplin, Mo., wrote to Trish because she had sustained similar injuries during the tragedy there 10 months earlier. The woman wrote about her recovery, provided her telephone number, address, and email; encouraging Trish to contact her if there is anything she could do to help. She enclosed a check.

A U of L hospital nurse, Sean Greschel, saw that Trish and Darrell had not received clothes to wear for their release from the hospital. He and his mother went shopping and brought back two large bags of clothes. A local insurance agent, Bryan Jackson, surprised the family with a minivan after collecting donations from the community.

Trish has always felt comfortable giving to others, but finds herself feeling somewhat awkward being on the receiving end.

“My family, friends, and even strangers have been amazing and generous.” Trish said, “We are learning that our recovery right now is primarily dependent upon others.”

The family wants to thank everyone for the prayers said for them and the generous gifts of clothes, furniture, food and more. They began naming individuals and then Darrell stopped and said, “You know, there have been so many people who have helped and continue to help us that we are afraid to miss anyone. He hopes everyone involved knows how appreciative and humbled they are for everything that has been done to assist his family.

Several days ago, Caleb and Collin visited the property where their home once stood. Both assert they were not afraid to go back. Collin said, “I was amazed and shocked that every part of our house was gone.”

A family friend took a photo of the boys in front of their home’s exposed foundation. They looked calm. Ironically, beautiful spring flowers and plants could be seen in the area where the front of their house was once located. The bright yellow blooms seem to be leading the way for this family — hope springing from the soil where they will begin again.

Like those beautiful spring flowers, Darrell and Trish will not be kept from this land. No EF-4 tornado can stop the Gilles family from their journey back home.

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