Family shares story of recovery after April 27, 2011 tornado - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Family shares story of recovery after April 27, 2011 tornado

(Jatex, Trinity and Jaylen Norris. Source: WBRC) (Jatex, Trinity and Jaylen Norris. Source: WBRC)
(Jaylen, Reggie, Trinity and Jatex Norris. Source: WBRC) (Jaylen, Reggie, Trinity and Jatex Norris. Source: WBRC)
(Leslie Norris with children. Source: WBRC) (Leslie Norris with children. Source: WBRC)

Five years ago, they were a family of five huddled in a bathtub inside their mobile home in Holt, Alabama.

When the day turned black and the tornado cut into their neighborhood like a giant buzzsaw from the sky, father Reggie Norris held a mattress over his wife and children in the bathtub, praying they would all survive.

Members of the Norris family came to in a field, the flattened remains of their home, car, and belongings strewn about in the fog of destruction. Leslie Norris awoke still holding her infant son Jatex and heard Reggie calling for their two other children, Jaylen and Trinity.

Jaylen shouted out and they saw he was OK. But Reggie spotted Trinity, motionless with her eyes closed.

"I picked her up and that's when the world came crashing down on me because it was the worst thing I'd ever seen," Norris remembered.

His 2-year-old daughter was wounded badly, so Reggie carried her in his arms, a walk through the wasteland of wreckage and carnage the storm left behind that has haunted him ever since.

"Here I am with my baby in my arms and her head is wide open," Norris remembered. "It was rough and I relive that moment because my mind is built up where my heart is bigger than me," he said.

Norris came upon a state trooper who agreed to transport Trinity to DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.

"The nurses and doctors did a whole lot to help people," Norris remembered. "There were people getting worked on in the waiting rooms, in the lunch room, outside in the parking lot."

Due to the severity of her head injury, Trinity was airlifted to Children's of Alabama where she would spend the next three weeks recovering from brain surgery and the next three years defying the odds as she regained the use of motor and cognitive skills that may not have returned after her injury.

It was just the beginning of an unthinkable ordeal this family would go through to survive, heal and recover from the storm of April 27, 2011. The storm almost claimed their middle child who suffered a head injury so traumatic doctors did not think she would survive the first night.

Trinity embodies the family's deep spirituality as a walking miracle and tribute to their answered prayers.

"She's a fighter," said mother Leslie Norris.

Despite some challenges using her left hand, Trinity has regained most traits and skills doctors feared she had lost to her injury. Her parents say she's had a few seizures and sometimes struggles with memory, but otherwise is a happy, healthy child.

After the storm, Trinity spent three years in intense physical therapy and still works with a physical therapist and occupational therapist at school. Her parents have been amazed at her strength and resilience.

"She's fighting through it all and she don't get down about it," said Reggie Norris. "She constantly lets you know that 'I'm independent. Don't look at me as a disabled person. I don't need your help."

The family now lives in Sylacauga and has two new additions, Reggie Jr., 2 and Leilani, 1. Leslie and Reggie are no longer together as a couple, but they share responsibilities in their children's care and say the focus remains on their kids.

"I value life more," said Leslie Norris."I think both of us look back at that storm and it helps us stay grounded because we could have lost the kids, we could have lost us."

The Norris family has experienced some nightmares and anxiety, especially when severe weather rolls in.

"Sometimes I kinda get nervous," said Jaylen Norris, 11. "I never go back in the room by myself if it's storming real bad. I like to stay in a group with a lot of people."

Reggie Norris said he felt angry after the storm and only in the last two years has he come to terms with everything that happened. He remembered the emotional toll he felt in the weeks and months following the storm.

"Every time I closed my eyes for the first six/seven months, it was there," said Reggie Norris. "It wouldn't leave. I'd wake up out of my sleep and I'm crying. I get in the shower and I'm crying."

Because Reggie and Leslie Norris were so focused on Trinity's recovery, they both neglected their own injuries.

Leslie suffered a fractured tailbone and hip and Reggie injured his back. He still deals with constant pain and without insurance, has not been able to get his injury treated.

"I didn't want to take my personal burdens and take away from my babies," Norris said.

Trinity, whose name refers to the Bible's Holy Trinity, remains an example of faith and a source of strength for the Norris family.

"We got hurt in the tornado, but there's people who went through worse situations than us and that's what I had to look at," said Reggie Norris. "I thank God. I thank God for everybody that survived and my deepest sympathies go out to the families that did lose people."

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