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Surviving April 27, 2011, tornadoes leads Decatur family to a yearlong journey of blessings amid healingcomment (0)

May 3, 2012

By Julie Payne

Surviving April 27, 2011, tornadoes leads Decatur family to a yearlong  journey of blessings amid healing

A thick piece of glass hanging from a chain around Michael Pate’s neck momentarily glinted. He looked down and grasped the stone-like object in his hand, pausing in a moment of reflection. “This glass I wear, it was in me,” he said. “It was lodged in my abdomen wall.” 

Michael now wears it as a testimony of God’s grace and his family’s miracle story after last year’s devastating tornadoes. 

On April 27, 2011, Michael was in his mobile home in Hillsboro (near Decatur) with his then 2-year-old son, Tyler. Michael’s wife, Andrea, had left to visit her grandmother.

Michael had been following the day’s weather on the Internet. When Tyler awoke from his nap about 3 p.m., Michael looked outside and noticed the horses were still grazing in the field. At first he thought everything was normal. But moments later, he spotted an ominous EF5 tornado — the same destructive tornado that barreled through Phil Campbell — heading directly toward his home. “God, help us,” Michael remembers praying.

“I had to make a judgment call of try[ing] to run for a storm shelter I knew of, but knowing how far away it was, I wasn’t going to make it,” he said.

Instead, Michael quickly snatched up Tyler and moved him to the master bathroom closet, in the process wrapping a bed comforter and extra clothes around his son’s body to protect him. 

The next thing Michael knew, the mobile home was rolling and he felt suction. A strong wind gust proceeded to rip the front of the home apart. “That was the last thing I remember till I heard people hollering for ‘father,’” he said.

Relatives of the Pates’ neighbors found Tyler first. He was transported to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham by ambulance as “Baby Doe” because at the time no one in the rescue effort knew his name. It wasn’t long before he was located by relatives and reunited with his mother.

Tyler, who turns 4 on May 21, was the child visited by Gov. Robert Bentley last April at Children’s Hospital. 

His primary injuries were to the left side of his skull and brain due to a compressed skull fracture and brain protrusion. 

Tyler spent 13 days in the hospital before beginning physical and occupational therapy to regain use of the right side of his body.

Michael was found shortly after and sent to Decatur General Hospital. He recalls how difficult it was to not know the specific details of Tyler’s condition during those first few hours.

The following days in intensive care are still a complete blur to Michael. He was in surgery for six hours the first night and doctors did much to repair his battered, lacerated body. Deep cuts covered his legs and arms and an 18-by-21-centimeter gash in his leg required additional medical attention. It took doctors two hours to remove pieces of rock, gravel, tree limbs, glass and even shingle material from his body. He has undergone three surgeries since last April, and two of his injured fingers on his left hand still feel “half asleep.”

Throughout the journey of healing and recovery, Michael took notice of how people demonstrated God’s love to his family in a variety of ways.

Michael was raised in a Christian home and attended a Christian school in Florida with Andrea. 

“I assumed I was saved … but after the storm I realized I really wasn’t saved because there was never [a] true conversion,” he shared. “People would automatically assume I was Christian because of my morals and the way I lived, but there was no change [in me].”

During his recovery, Michael’s mother prayed about some books to give him and found two: “In the Grip of Grace” by Max Lucado and “God is in Control: My Unshakable Peace When the Storms Come” by Charles Stanley. The books made a lasting impression on him.

“God put people in my life that needed to be there,” he remarked. “My doctor was a Christian. He said that my healing has been a miracle.”

And there were many others who stepped up to help. Family members, friends, people from the Pates’ church, Central Park Baptist, Decatur, as well as Central Park Senior Pastor Jackie Kay, offered support and encouragement to the family. 

Jere and Jody Patterson, members of Central Park Baptist, also have been encouragers. Jody is Tyler’s Sunday School teacher and Jere, interim director of missions for Bessemer Baptist Association, has been influential in Michael’s life. 

“Michael’s faith has increased,” Jere Patterson said. “[This journey] has made him more dependent on God.” 

Jody Patterson believes God has a plan for the Pates. 

“Michael is a miracle himself because he was so terribly injured,” she explained, adding that Tyler is a smart, gentle child who “absolutely loves” Sunday School. “He is such a joy,” she shared.

Tyler is now enrolled in the Head Start Program for special needs children in Decatur. There are also visits to Children’s Hospital for constraint therapy that will help Tyler re-learn to spontaneously use his right hand. “He can do it if he’s reminded to do it,” Michael explained, adding the therapy should help to improve his fine motor skills. 

In addition to the emotional support offered by friends, the church’s missions house — typically used by Southern Baptist representatives on stateside assignment — was opened up for the Pates’ use. 

Epic Church, Decatur, also donated a car to the family through its distribution center. “There have been other things out there that have really been a blessing,” Michael added.

He sparkles with excitement recounting how God has worked through His people throughout the past year.

Andrea agreed, noting how she has seen evidence of God’s presence throughout the journey. 

For her, it is little things like the story of her cell phone charger. 

When she initially discovered there was a problem after the storms hit, she drove to a Walmart. 

The store was closed, and with one bar left on her cell phone she sat in the parking lot trying to use the broken cell phone charger in her car. 

“I plugged it in, and I had to hold it to make it stay, and it worked,” she said. 

“It was a God thing. … Now mind you I sat in the parking lot for about an hour waiting for it to charge, but it worked.” She added, “God gives us what we need when we need it, even if it doesn’t … work to begin with.”

‘God still works miracles’

Michael noted, “To look at where that storm hit our trailer … it’s devastation three quarters of a mile [in] all directions. The center of that storm that hit my house was a mile and a quarter wide, and we were thrown in the opposite direction of all the debris.

“I realize now that every day is a gift that God gives us,” he shared. “God still works miracles.”

To view a video related to this story, visit the video library.

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