By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
MOORE — For most Oklahoma residents Nov. 20 marks the somber six-month anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that tore through Moore. But for one mother, the date symbolizes new life.
Shayla Taylor was moments from giving birth to her second child at Moore Medical Center when the tornado hit the building. Six months later, her son, Braeden Immanuel, lives up to the nickname “Twister” he earned shortly after birth.
“Nothing was easy with him,” Taylor said, referring to a difficult pregnancy. “It’s only right that he would come into the world in that type of situation because it wasn’t easy. But I still think about him all the time and how crazy he came into the world.
“And he’s a ball of fun. He’s a ball of excitement. He’s all of that. He’s unpredictable at times, as well — his personality is just like that situation. You really can’t predict him. He’ll make you laugh but he has an unpredictable personality.”
As the storm approached on May 20, Taylor’s nurses decided her labor was too far progressed to move her downstairs to safety with the rest of those in the hospital, including Taylor’s husband, Jerome, and their then 4-year-old son, Shaiden. Taylor and her four nurses were left upstairs bracing for the worst.
The nurses — Barbara Brand, Cindy Popejoy, Bonny Stephens and Alyson Heeke — piled towels on top of Taylor and ducked down around her bed just before the tornado collided with the building, Taylor said. When the storm passed, the women opened their eyes to discover the wall was gone and they could see straight out to the interstate.
Taylor was still having strong contractions. Her husband and the nurses managed to get her out of the badly damaged medical center and into an ambulance, which took her to the HealthPlex Hospital in nearby Norman. There she gave birth to her healthy, 8-pound, 3-ounce boy.
The following days were hectic, Taylor said, as she attempted to balance reconciling what had happened with caring for a newborn. Even now, Taylor, who lives in Oklahoma City, said traveling through Moore brings back raw emotions.
“It’s a memory, it’s like relieving it. Everybody wants to hear about it and everybody is excited about it and in awe about it. It’s like you never get to forget. But it’s always there,” she said. “It’s just been a lot of that. There’s still some days that I just sit and cry.”
For the nurses that day was a blur of instinctually performing their job, leaving little room to stop and ponder the magnitude of the situation they had just survived.
“I still just feel like I did whatever needed to be done at work that day,” Heeke said. “And the rest of it isn’t real to me. I look at pictures of that room that we were in. It happened and I can talk about it — but was I really in the middle of a tornado? It’s hard to wrap your mind around that.”
“Even six months later,” Stephens added. “You’d think by now it would have hit us and we’d have a reality check.”
Heeke, Stephens and Brand now work at the HealthPlex with many of the other staff members from their unit at the Moore Medical Center. Though the women have been welcomed with open arms by the HealthPlex staff, Heeke said they miss their old building and are still coping with the change.
“You wonder sometimes why certain things happen,” Heeke said. “I’m a believer that God puts you places for a reason and things happen to you for a reason — whatever that is. It’s still an emotional thing you have to deal with. And it’s very difficult for people who haven’t been through it to understand it.”
Stephens said the group of women help sustain each other through the day-to-day emotions of dealing with a trauma.
“It’s getting easier, it’s getting better,” she said.
Though Taylor and the nurses express trepidation about the next tornado season, all anticipate a joyous celebration. With Braeden’s first birthday six months away, Taylor is already in planning mode. She’s hoping for a party that will reunite her with the nurses who selflessly protected her life and that of her unborn son.
“It will be more of a happy day because in a sense it’s a reunion and a celebration,” Taylor said. “Yeah, you’re going to have your sad thoughts and moments but I think it will be more of a happy celebration and day.”
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