Joplin Tornado Stories


Quick Links

:: About Us

:: Via Christi Health Facts

:: Via Christi Health Annual Report

:: Via Christi Hospital Pittsburg History

In the aftermath of the EF5 tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri on May 22, and a May 21 tornado that nearly wiped out Reading, Kansas there were more heroic efforts to aid those impacted than will ever be recorded in stories or photographs. These stories recognize the employees who lived Via Christi's Mission and exemplified our Core Values by serving the victims of both communities.

While not every effort by our employees is even known, the stories that follow illustrate the dedication of our co-workers in Pittsburg and beyond. Please note that these stories are representative, but by no means inclusive of our employees' efforts.

Emergency Department staff at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg await incoming patients from the May 22 tornado in Joplin, Mo.

Preparing and waiting

On May 22, an EF5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. It would eventually claim 143 lives and be listed as the deadliest tornado in the United States in decades. As soon as they heard the news that the tornado had struck, Via Christi Hospital and Via Christi Village in Pittsburg employees began streaming into work, ready to help wherever they were needed. At the hospital, 140 employees turned out to help. Six nurses from the Village went to Joplin to assist there. Hospital employees who weren't on shift and hadn't gone to the hospital also went to Joplin.

A 24-hour incident command center was set up at the hospital. Available beds were counted for the patients and tornado victims who would be coming to Pittsburg. The emergency room was stocked with water and other supplies for staff, patients and EMS crews.

"A lot of it was prepping for the influx," says Michael Hayslip, public relations director. "When we first got here, we didn't know how bad it was."

The preparation proved extremely beneficial. In less than an hour, helicopters began bringing in the first of 105 patients the hospital would receive by air and ground ambulance. Of the patients, 45 would be admitted.

To make more room for incoming patients, the hospital transferred four patients to Via Christi Village which sits just behind and across the street from the hospital. The Village also took in one resident from Greenbriar nursing home in Joplin, which had been destroyed by the tornado.

Melinda Ewan, administrator at Via Christi Village, praised the teamwork between the hospital, the Village and Via Christi Home Medical in Pittsburg.

Emergency Department put to test; passes with flying colors

The mock emergency drills had taught emergency department leaders what to do. They called doctors and nurses to see who was available to come to the hospital. Triage nurses staffed every entryway to Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg. Emergency Department beds, trauma bays, the cath lab and QuickCare were all set up for the influx of patients from Joplin.

Patients with broken bones and blunt trauma injuries began arriving. A helicopter diverted to the hospital a 6-year-old boy with head injuries who had gone into cardiac arrest on his way to a hospital in Kansas City. Thanks to the efforts of doctors and staff at the hospital, the boy lived.

In the end, EMS and EagleMed crews praised hospital staff for their organization and the quality of care they gave to patients. Patients' families and the patients themselves came back to seek out and thank the staff who cared for them that evening.
Read the full story.

Personal accounts: Two Via Christi Villages nurses share their experience

Charity Burchett and Tara Kline are among six nurses from Via Christi Village in Pittsburg who grabbed supplies and headed for Joplin to answer the call for medical personnel. Tara offers an overview of the nurses' effort, including returning to the Village when they learned that the hospital in Pittsburg would be transferring patients there. Read her story.

"I have never seen anything like what I experienced in Joplin that night and can only hope to expect to see people working together like they did, if something like this were to happen again." - Tara Kline, LPN

Charity offers a compelling account of her personal experience from learning of the tornado during her brother's graduation party to the destruction, injuries and chaos she encountered upon arriving in Joplin.

"I watched as people poured in, some crying, some smiling, some really not sure of what was going on. Medical supplies, water, blankets, fans, anything you can imagine came pouring in from somewhere. How did people know we were here? How did they know what we needed? The hand of God was in ALL of this, there is no question in my mind."
- Charity Burchett, LPN


  A pickup driven by William Sullivan, MD, of Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, transports victims of the Joplin, Mo., tornado to Freeman Memorial Hospital in Joplin.
- Photo by Jaime Green, Wichita Eagle

Above and beyond

The photograph of the pickup truck with a young man and a woman tending to victims of the May 22 Joplin, Mo., tornado made national news. It was taken by Wichita Eagle photojournalist Jaime Green who was in Joplin to photograph a wedding. Green survived the storm and then documented its aftermath.

Driving the truck was William Sullivan, a doctor of internal medicine at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg. His wife, Patricia, a nurse practitioner, was in the back of the truck along with Lucian Myers, an ROTC cadet at Pittsburg State University, who himself was injured in the tornado.
Read the full story from the Wichita Eagle.

Debra Gifford, right, hugs Denell Smith, charge nurse in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis. Smith's persistence helped identify Gifford's grandmother, Cora Ellsworth, who was admitted to the hospital after the Joplin tornado.
- Photo by Fernando Salazar, Wichita Eagle

Nurse's persistence helps identify tornado victim

Debra Gifford only knew that her grandmother, Cora Ellsworth, had been a patient at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin before the May 22 tornado. The hospital took a direct hit from the twister. Patients were transferred to multiple hospitals in the four-state region. Gifford searched for nearly two days before being reunited with her grandmother.

The reunion was made possible by the efforts of Denell Smith, a charge nurse in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, where Ellsworth had been admitted as a "Jane Doe." Smith kept searching, even after her shift ended, until she found a nurse's hotline on the Internet. The description she gave was recognized by a St. John's nurse who identified the patient as Ellsworth. Gifford then traveled to Wichita to be with her grandmother. Read the full story in the Wichita Eagle.

Many thanks
In the wake of the devastation, almost as soon as the recovery began, the thank yous could be heard from all around. Residents of Joplin who had lost nearly everything thanked the volunteers who came to help them begin to rebuild their lives. Medical personnel at the scene thanked emergency workers and volunteers. Patients and their families thanked those who cared for them. Tim Stebbins, MD, Emergency Department medical director at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg worked his shift in the ER in Pittsburg before heading to Joplin to offer his services there. He sent an email to his co-workers at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg:

"I was approached by members of Johnson County MED-ACT, METS (Joplin ambulance service) and Crawford County EMS today to tell me how impressed they were both our response to handling patients and the organization with which we brought patients into the hospital. I was also thanked for the hospitality we gave to the EMS crews. The crews were very sincere in their comments. I wanted to say thank you as well to all of you as you put an exceptional team together that handled an incredibly difficult situation in a truly impressive manner."


Featured in the News

 Wichita nurse reunites Joplin tornado survivor, family - Story from the Wichita Eagle

 Joplin family finds grandmother in Wichita hospital after tornado - Story featured on KWCH TV in Wichita.

 KWCH News reports a Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis ICU nurse helped a family find their missing grandmother from the Joplin, Mo. tornado. 




  _Follow Us