Medical Miracles

The individuals featured here are living, breathing miracles. And that’s not just according to us. That’s what their doctors said.

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The individuals featuredhere are living, breathing miracles. And that’s not just according to us. That’s what their doctors said. There’s a man who lived through a car crash that involved speeds as fast as 140 miles per hour on West Highway 76. There’s a woman who died twice, then came back during a long battle with severe pneumonia. Another woman was thrown more than 300 feet then buried under three trees during the May 2011 Joplin tornado, and a 10-year-old girl who was sucked into a boat propeller on Lake Pomme De Terre. None of these patients were expected to live, but they all did. In some cases, it was the quick actions of doctors that saved them, and in others it was the aid of new technology and experimental treatments. And then there are even a couple of cases that no one can seem to explain. True miracles. Intrigued by medical phenomena? Read on, and be amazed.

Last May’s devastating tornado in Joplin threw Jennifer Donaldson approximately 400 feet and
buried her under three trees, and her doctors are amazed that she lived to talk about it.

       If you’re a 417-lander, you probably remember where you were on May 22, 2011, the day a tornado brought enormous destruction to the city of Joplin.

Jennifer Donaldson, who works in the emergency department at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, can recall the first half of the day quite well. “I had just worked overnight the night before, and then I went to Fayetteville to watch my daughter play in a softball tournament,” Donaldson says. After returning to Joplin, Donaldson actually drove to the hospital and sat in the parking lot debating whether or not to go inside to fill out time cards. “I just decided to go home, and I got home around 4 or 4:30 that afternoon,” Donaldson says. 

At that time, her home was at Dr. Kyle and Jamie Kennedy’s house, where she was living while she searched for a permanent residence. “Dr. Kennedy was out of town, and Jamie was taking their son to get ice cream,” she says. “I was so tired, so I told them I just wanted to stay home and go to bed.”

It was cloudy out when she went to bed. “It had been that way all day, and it hadn’t rained yet,” Donaldson says. “So I was under the assumption that it was about to start raining, and I was going to sleep well and wake up ready and well-rested.” But as she lay in bed, she listened to the wind get stronger. “I could hear the wind coming in around the window, and kind of through it,” Donaldson says. “It seemed strange because the house was built very soundly, and I had never heard that before. But I thought I was maybe just tired.” Not long after this, Donaldson heard the shingles slapping on the top of the roof of the house. She then decided she better get up to check on the weather.

“I got up, put my house shoes on, opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway,” Donaldson says. “The first thing I saw was the roof fly off of the house, which was an amazing sight. Then, I remember getting hit with a huge gust of wind. I could feel rocks and debris hitting me, and I remember seeing my feet physically coming off the ground. That’s the last thing I really remember.”

Nearly two-and-a-half hours later, Donaldson was found approximately 400 feet from where she last remembers standing. “I was under three good-sized trees that they had to cut off of me,” she says. “Somebody saw my feet, and that led someone with a chainsaw to come and cut the trees off.” After removing the trees, the rescuers used a door to load Donaldson onto a Gator, and they transported her to the emergency room at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, where she had been an administrative assistant for 10 years. “Nobody recognized me,” Donaldson says. “They saw me every day, but they didn’t recognize me. I was so blue from being oxygen deprived. I don’t know how I even made it there.”

Donaldson’s injuries included a broken vertebrae, a shattered left elbow, broken shoulders, 11 broken ribs and a broken left leg. Her brain was also bleeding. During her time at the hospital, Donaldson was cared for and worked on by several physicians. When she arrived, Dr. Clint Loy and Dr. John Coleman, both emergency department physicians, started caring for her. “Dr. Coleman made a splint for my leg out of cardboard, box materials and sticks and boards the night I came in,” Donaldson says. “Supplies were limited due to the tornado, and he was able to find things to substitute. The creativity used that night amazes me.” Dr. Loy and nurses kept Donaldson awake and talking, and it was Dr. Jason Kent, who lives near Dr. Kennedy’s home and saw her at the scene of the accident, who identified Donaldson. Neurosurgeon Dr. Ellen Nichols helped stabilize Donaldson after she arrived, and general surgeon Dr. David Baker fixed her ribs. “He did an amazing job,” Donaldson says. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Derek Miller put her elbow back together and straightened her leg. And Dr. Miller also sent Donaldson to Dr. Todd Twiss, who helped care for a bone growth that eventually came up on her elbow.

Donaldson returned to work at Freeman Hospital West 90 days after the accident. “Most of the doctors who took care of me that night didn’t even think I’d make it, let alone come back to work,” she says. “I can’t believe I am so blessed to even be alive to tell the story. But to be as doing as well as I am—it’s unbelievable.”

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