The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 28, 2012

Tornado victim’s recovery ‘miraculous’

By Wally Kennedy

SOUTHWEST CITY, Mo. — Carolyn Mckinlay did not know much about baseball, but she knew it was important to watch the sixth game of last year’s World Series.

It was important because her future husband, Mark Lindquist, had a ticket to see his beloved Cardinals take on the Texas Rangers in the seventh game at St. Louis.

“To see the game, I went to this bar I had never been in before in Great Falls, Mont.,” she said. “My neck hurt after looking up for so long at the TV. It was my first full game of baseball.”

As she recounted the story of going to a bar to see a baseball game, Mark shook his head in disbelief.

“She did not know where the shortstop was,” he said, rolling his eyes.

The Cardinals would win the sixth game and go on to win the seventh.

A month or so later, Mark and Carolyn would marry. She knows a lot more now about baseball, and she is learning how to fish along Big Sugar Creek in McDonald County.

Though their lives might best be described as unsettled, they hold tight to each other, taking it one day and one hurdle at a time.

“He’s doing a lot better than he thinks he is,” Carolyn said. “We remember where he was. It seems slow to him. For us, it’s miraculous.”

When the tornado struck Joplin on May 22, 2011, Mark was working at a group home at 2302 Iowa Ave. He and a co-worker tried to save three residents of the home by throwing mattresses on top of them and then climbing on top of the mattresses to hold them down. The three men, who had Down syndrome, died.

Mark, who had no medical insurance, was in a coma for nearly two months after the tornado. All of his ribs were broken. He lost the bone structure in his right shoulder and much of the muscle there. He lost many of his teeth. He also fell ill to a fungal infection that killed five tornado victims.

He was close to death.

“When they took him to Freeman, they said he had a 2 percent chance to live,” Carolyn said. “They were talking about taking him off of life support to use it to help someone else. Mike Byers, one of the guys who found him, told them: ‘He’s fighting! Please don’t unhook him.’

“Thank God they didn’t.”

Reminders of tornado

From time to time, Mark gets sharp reminders of what happened on May 22.

“I’m still getting glass out,” he said. “And I still feel pain in my joints and my hips.”

Though his right hand has grown stronger, it is unlikely that he will regain the use of his right shoulder. The Lindquists have consulted with several doctors and are not giving up hope.

“We were told too much muscle had been removed. There was not enough there to support a shoulder,” Mark said. “They did not want to take the risk of stirring up the fungus again.”

Said Carolyn: “It’s been very difficult for Mark to accept that.”

Deflecting with humor his disappointment, Mark said, “I really wanted a bionic golf shoulder.”

Said Carolyn: “His doctor has put all of his information out there for the best shoulder doctors to look at it. We’ll see if anyone has any ideas.”

Mark was so weak when he was released in October from the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon that he barely had enough strength to stand on his own.

“I’m fatter now than I have ever been,” said Mark, who is 52. “I look like I have a beer belly, and I don’t even drink beer.”

Said Carolyn: “He can’t exercise and do things like he used to do. He’s gained weight because of that. He thinks he’s fat. I think he’s healthy and getting healthier.”

The couple are living in an apartment designed for the disabled in Southwest City. Mark is receiving job training and occupational therapy. He’s seeing doctors on a regular basis. He’s getting fitted for new teeth.

Close to home

The Lindquists have decided to stay for a while in Southwest City, where Mark had operated a feed mill years ago. He’s familiar with the area and has family nearby. His 12-year-old son, Creed, also lives nearby.

“I’m seeing more of my son now,” Mark said. “I coach baseball. He plays in the outfield. I wish I could throw a ball.”

Said Carolyn: “Mark was an awesome baseball player. He was a shortstop. He wishes Creed could have seen that. Being with Creed now is so important. He kept Mark going.”

That’s not all that has kept Mark going.

In 1980, Carolyn was working for her parents at a cafe and motel in Loma, Mont. Mark had a job that summer working on the water tower in Loma. After getting permission from her father, Carolyn and Mark spent a few weeks together that summer. They fell in love.

When he left, he sent her a poem and a dozen roses. They stayed in touch for a while. When her parents sold the cafe and moved to Fort Benton, Mont., she lost her address book. Both Mark and Carolyn would marry and have families. Both would become single again.

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

She narrowed down the list of names to two people.

“I sent them a simple message: ‘Have you ever been to Loma, Mont.?’” she said. “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?’”

Divorced for 19 years, Carolyn worked as a billing clerk for a law firm in Great Falls. She did not plan to marry again. They communicated with each other and made plans for her to visit him in Joplin. The Lindquist family did not know that Mark and Carolyn had rekindled an interest in each other after 31 years apart.

The tornado interrupted their plans. But it did not stop them from eventually getting together. Carolyn traveled to Columbia to be with Mark at University Hospital 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,” Carolyn has 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.”

Insurance claim denied

When Mark was released from the Missouri Rehabilitation Center, he had racked up millions of dollars in medical bills after months of intensive treatment.

He had been employed by Community Support Services, of Joplin, which has workers’ compensation coverage with the Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, of Lansing, Mich.

Community Support Services sought workers’ compensation for Mark, noting that he was injured on the job.

The insurance company denied the initial claim in June “based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado.”

His older sister, Linda Lindquist Baldwin, would not stand for that. She battled for months to get the insurance company to reverse the denial, which the company did in October of last year.

When he was released from the rehab center, Mark was interviewed by the Globe. In that interview, he said about the St. Louis Cardinals’ bid for the playoffs: “I said them coming back would be a bigger miracle than me. And they have come back! Go Cardinals!”

That devotion to the Cardinals would inspire a donor in St. Louis to give Mark two tickets to the seventh game of the World Series. His took his friend Mike Byers with him. While he was there, the Cardinals organization presented him with an official World Series jersey with his name on it.

What has happened to Mark in one year would be enough for most to experience in a lifetime. He lost three friends he loved in the group home. He was nearly killed by the tornado. He married the love of his life. He saw the Cardinals win the World Series.

“It brings tears to my eyes when I think about the great family and friends that I have,” he said. “They supported me and prayed for me. I took them for granted before. When something like this happens, you realize how lucky you are.”