By Susan Redden
QUAPAW, Okla. —
There were lots of hugs exchanged, pictures taken and memories summoned when fire crews on Friday met the two youngsters they pulled, critically injured, from the wreckage of Joplin’s 2011 tornado.
“This closes a circle for us — to be able to see them face-to-face and to see how well they’re doing,” said Chief Jeff Reeves, of the Quapaw Tribe Fire and Emergency Medical Service.
His crews were the first on the scene after the tornado at Joplin’s Home Depot, where Lage Grigsby had suffered serious head injuries, and Mason Lillard, a metal rod piercing her torso, had to be cut from inside her grandfather’s truck.
The two were with their grandmother, Sharon Lillard, of Carthage, waiting for their grandfather, Rodney Lillard, who was inside the store. The twister threw the Lillards’ heavy-duty truck about 300 feet cross the parking lot, throwing Lage from the vehicle, and pinning Mason and Sharon inside the mangled vehicle.
The memories of the Lillards and others they helped that day don’t fade, Reeves said.
The crews, along with the Miami Fire Department and Integris EMS, set up a medical triage in the parking lot, treating and helping transport nearly 150 people in a two-hour period.
What happened to Mason and Lage stick with them, the firefighters said, because of the seriousness of their injuries and because they had to work for nearly an hour to cut the iron bar that was pinning Mason inside the truck.
“The memories are still pretty vivid, but these two are our feel-good story,” Reeves said.
The mood was celebratory, with firemen serving lunch in the family’s honor and showing them around the station, including up-close looks at each of the ambulances that were used to transport the two youngsters to the hospital.
Mason had hugs for firemen including Corey Humble, a firefighter/EMT, and Corey Reeves, firefighter/paramedic (now a paramedic and flight nurse for EagleMed), who cut her out of the truck. The two started with a regular hand saw, but had to switch to a reciprocating saw to cut the metal, said Corey Reeves. When the two approached the truck, he said, they thought their biggest challenge was going to be getting a door open to get the passengers out.
“I thought all we’d have to do is get the door open and get her to the hospital,” he said. “She was in the truck an hour and a half and we had to work for about 45 minutes to get her free.”
Fire Capt. Sam Freeman said the two had started intravenous fluids and other measures to stabilize Mason. They also had notified Freeman Health Systems, and doctors were prepared when they arrived.
“They didn’t even slow down; they started hanging blood when we walked in the door and they took her into surgery on our cot,” he said.
The two youngsters at first were a little shy on Friday, leaving much of their conversation to Sharon and to Jessica Grigsby, Lage’s mother.
Sharon reminded them that Mason told of seeing angels with her and her cousin, and she said the firemen also were Heaven-sent.
“God was there, and he brought you to us at the right time,” said Sharon.
By the end of the visit, the two had ridden on a fire truck, and Mason had dressed up like a fireman.
Mason and Lage have received a lot of attention from their ordeal, including a story in People magazine and a trip to New York City for an appearance on Katie Couric’s show.
There, Mason and Lage got to ride a Ferris wheel inside the Toys R Us store and they went to the Statue of Liberty and M&M World, a store devoted to the chocolate treat and its images.
“Her bedroom is decorated in M&Ms (patterns),” said Sharon.
Freeman said several of the firemen had tried to keep track of the two to see how they were doing. But he and others discounted their work that day.
“Your training kicks in, and you do it,” he said. “Being able to meet them and see how well they’re doing is pretty awesome, it makes it all worth it.”
“We were all doing what we were trained to do,” added Torrey Eckert, a firefighter/EMT.
Both Mason and Lage have undergone surgeries in Joplin and Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, and both still suffer some effects from their injuries.
At first, Lage could not speak or move his limbs. He speaks easily now, but has to wear a brace on one leg and has limited use of his left arm. But he has earned his learner’s permit to drive, which he showed off Friday.
Mason’s injuries are less obvious, though she had developed scoliosis as a result of the iron bar’s impact on her hip and spine. The doctors have put her in a body brace, in hopes the problem will correct as she grows, and surgery can be avoided.
The reunion was arranged by Bonney Hogue Patterson, a St. Charles author who is writing a book about the Joplin tornado.