The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

October 8, 2011

In wake of disaster, Joplin man rediscovers love

JOPLIN, Mo. — As the tornado inched closer to the home, Mark Lindquist turned to his co-worker Ryan Tackett and said, “If you have ever prayed, now is the time.’’

As the ground shook beneath them, Lindquist and Tackett threw themselves on top of a mattress covering three young men in a group home for the developmentally disabled at 2302 Iowa Ave.

The tornado was at its zenith. It ripped the home apart. The young men — Tripp Miller, Rick Fox and Mark Farmer — did not survive. They are among the 162 people whose lives were claimed by the May 22 tornado.

Tackett survived.

Lindquist was found in rubble two houses south of the group home.

His rescuers, Mike Byers and Brian Hamlet, thought he was dead at first. When Lindquist was revived, he instinctively tried to find the young men in his care. When he was picked up and laid on a door to be taken to the hospital, bones from his right shoulder fell into the rubble.

Lindquist was hospitalized as a “John Doe’’ for three days at Freeman Hospital West. His identity was unknown. His family did not know whether he was in a morgue or still in the rubble. His brother, Keith Lindquist, described Mark’s hazel-colored eyes with a brown fleck in the right one to a nurse in the intensive-care unit. She recognized those distinctive eyes.

Every rib in Mark’s body was broken. His lungs were punctured. His sternum was broken. His right shoulder was gone. He was in a coma for seven weeks. On top of that, he contracted a rare fungal infection.

Before the tornado, Lindquist had a job helping take care of other people who could not take care of themselves. He had a van to drive and a home.

Now — 140 days later — he does not have a job. Someone will be taking care of him. His van was destroyed by the tornado. He did not have health insurance. His home was sold to pay medical expenses that are astronomical. He needs shoulder surgery. He also has been denied workers’ compensation.

But Mark Lindquist has a couple of things going for him.

He has the love of his 11-year-old son, Creed, and the support of devoted family.

And, he has fallen in love again at age 51.

‘Ever been to Loma?’

The year is 1980. Carolyn Stephenson is 16. She’s working in the remote town of Loma, Mont.

“My parents had the Loma Cafe and Motel. I was working at the cafe. Mark was 20. He was working on the water tower in Loma,’’ she said. “He was traveling around the U.S. working at different places that summer.

“He and his friend, John Coffee, would come into the cafe every day and eat. I was extremely shy. He would try to talk to me, but I had not been around boys much. One day he said, ‘Do you think your dad would let you hang out with me if I talked to him?’ He talked to my dad and my dad, to my surprise, said it would be OK.’’

Lindquist and Stephenson (now Mckinlay) spent a few weeks together that summer.

“He was so much fun. He made me feel comfortable. He was so respectful of me. I fell in love with his kind, gentle heart. I was so innocent with those freckles,’’ she said. “We had a wonderful time together.

“When he left, he sent me a poem and a dozen roses. We stayed in touch for a while. My family sold the cafe and moved to Fort Benton (Mont.). During the move, I lost my address book. I was devastated. There was no Internet then. We lost track of each other.’’

Both Lindquist and Stephenson would marry and have families. Both became single again.

“He was always on my mind in my married life and my single life. When my daughter, Tessa, made me get a Facebook, she told me you could search for people. He was the first person I searched for,’’ Mckinlay said.

She narrowed down the list of names to two people.

“I sent them a simple message: ‘Have you ever been to Loma, Mont.?’ The first guy said he had never been to Loma, Mont. After a few months passed, I kind of forgot about the other guy. And then I got a message from him: ‘Hey, is this my Montana sweetie?’”

They communicated with each other and made plans for her to visit him in Joplin.

Reuniting

“But the tornado happened first. I found out the next morning about the tornado. I got on the Internet and sent him an email. I knew his home was not in the path of the tornado. But I was still worried because I had not heard back from him,’’ Mckinlay said.

She contacted Mark’s sister. The Lindquist family did not know that Mark and Carolyn had rekindled an interest in each other after 31 years apart.

“We were calling each other and praying for Mark together. I skipped three days of work and just prayed. I quit smoking on May 23. I told God that if we found him alive I would never have another cigarette,’’ she said.

Mark was a smoker, too.

“But he did it the easy way — he was in a coma,’’ she said. “We have laughed so hard about that. It was very, very funny.’’

Mckinlay has been divorced for 19 years. She has worked as a billing clerk for a law firm in Great Falls, Mont. She did not ever plan to marry again.

“I was not looking to get married. But I did not know I would get in touch with Mark again. You know, he has the kindest, gentlest, sweetest heart I have ever met,’’ she said.

She traveled to Columbia to be with Mark at the University of Missouri Medical Center for a week in early July. He started coming out of his coma that week. She visited him again in late August at the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon.

“He proposed to me while he was throwing up,’ Mckinlay said. “I was holding the puke bucket for him. I just laughed. He said he was serious. I told him I wanted him to get off of about 40 meds before he made up his mind. That was the week we truly knew we loved each other.

“I have loved Mark for 31 years. The road ahead for us may not be easy, but it is the road we were meant to be on.’’

Denied help

That road became more problematic when Lindquist learned that he had been denied workers’ compensation. His family, including sisters Vehrlene Crosswhite and Linda Lindquist Baldwin, is planning an appeal.

Lindquist was employed by Community Support Services, of Joplin, which has workers’ compensation coverage with the Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America, of Lansing, Mich.

Stepheni Schlinker, media and public relations adviser for Accident Fund Holdings, in an email response to Globe questions, said, “It is company policy to not comment on decisions made related to individual claim files.’’

Letters mailed June 21 that explained the denial were sent to Lindquist and to his employer, but his employer never received that letter. His employer learned of the denial when the Globe inquired about it.

Jhan Hurn, head of Community Support Services, expressed disbelief when told of the denial.

“We did file a claim for him. We want to see him get it. We’re are going to file an appeal because we don’t agree with that,’’ Hurn said. “He was on duty putting into effect our emergency procedures during a tornado. Our feelings are that he was on the job working.’’

Hurn also described Lindquist as “a very good employee who was very conscientious.’’

Hurn said, “I visited Mark in the hospital. It broke his heart that none of his boys survived. They were like family to him. I told him there was nothing more he could have done. It was such a tremendous blow to him.’’

Hurn said Community Support Services moved into temporary quarters after the tornado. He said he suspects the change of address is the reason why they did not receive the letter denying the claim.

Amy Susan, spokeswoman for the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation, said in an email, “If an injured worker or survivors of a worker who was killed on the job is not receiving benefits from their employer’s insurance company, they can file a claim for compensation with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. The filing of a claim begins a contested case proceeding where an administrative law judge has the authority to decide the issues in the dispute.’’

The department cannot give out information about individual cases, but it does keep track of claims for statistical purposes. A search conducted Wednesday indicates there were a total of 132 injuries reported to the division with a date of injury of May 22 for Joplin’s zip codes.

Susan said, “Of the 132 injuries, 10 were fatalities.”

Lindquist is among eight people who have been denied benefits by either their employer or insurer.

Susan said, “We do review these incidents on a case-by-case basis and natural disasters do not necessarily preclude an injured worker or their survivors from accessing workers’ compensation benefits. Missouri law makes it a crime for insurance companies to knowingly and intentionally refuse to comply with known and legally indisputable compensation obligations with intent to defraud.’’

In the letter to Lindquist, the insurance company said the reason for denial was “that he was at no greater risk than the general public at the time he was involved in the Joplin tornado.’’

His sister, Linda Lindquist Baldwin, bristles at that reasoning.

“His personal home was not touched by the tornado. Had he not been at work he would not have been in harm’s way,’’ she said. “I was the general public of Joplin. I heard the sirens. I had all kinds of options. Mark did not have those options. He was responsible for three lives.

“They had had a tornado drill the week before. He moved them into a designated area in that home. He could not get them into a different environment. The only way he could have protected himself would have been to have abandoned them. I am sure he would be facing a charge of neglect had he abandoned them.’’

Angels in green light

Before the tornado, Lindquist said he was a healthy man. A devoted St. Louis Cardinals fan, he loves to watch baseball. He has experience on the field as a shortstop. He said he received a baseball scholarship to attend college. He’s thrilled that the Cards made the playoffs.

“I said them coming back would be a bigger miracle than me. And they have come back! Go Cardinals!’’ he said.

Lindquist has been described as a miracle patient. Not only did he survive injuries from the tornado, he beat a fungal infection that contributed to the deaths of five tornado victims. At one time, he had a deep and wide wound on his back in which his spine could be seen. This was his darkest time in recovery.

“It was like a black, itchy wool blanket that kept creeping up,’’ he said. “I knew once it covered my head I would be dead. I just knew it.’’

But that didn’t happen.

“I knew I had all of these people praying for me. And then I saw angels in this light green light. That’s when I knew the fungus was gone.’’

Lindquist does not like to talk about the loss of the three young men he tried to save. As he regained consciousness, he asked people about them. No one would tell him the truth because they were afraid it would cause a setback in his recovery. Finally, he demanded to know the truth.

“They were family and they were my responsibility,’’ he said. “I tried to save the boys. All I could do was cover them up with a mattress and tell them it was just a drill like we had done so many times before. I would have liked to have saved just one of them.

“All I know is that God saved me for a particular reason.’’

Lindquist thinks one reason is his son, Creed.

“He’s in the sixth grade at Anderson Elementary. I’ll have more time with my son now (Mark is living with his brother’s family in McDonald County),’’ he said. “He got his name from the Rocky movie. One of the characters was named Apollo Creed. I looked that name up. It means ‘I believe.’’’

Another reason, he said, is his rekindled love for Carolyn Mckinlay.

“She has the most beautiful blue eyes. I have gray hair now. My teeth are bad. I’m all beat up. She told me none of that matters. She truly loves me.’’

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