Fourteen people died in Lawrence County when an EF-5 tornado ripped through it. Michael Pate and his then-two-year-old son, Tyler, were two of the lucky ones, but still endured brutal physical injuries after being thrown more than 200 yards from their trailer in Hillsboro.
Michael is still healing one year after the April 27th storms. Not from the physical injuries, though 65 percent of his body was covered in lacerations, but from the emotional damage.
Michael and Tyler were getting ready to watch some TV after Tyler’s nap that Wednesday afternoon. That was when Michael heard something outside. When he looked out front, all he saw was a huge tornado barreling down on him and his son. Without time to make it to a storm shelter, Michael and Tyler hunkered down in a closet.
“You know, hindsight is 20-20, I should have left the trailer, you know, that’s the bottom line,” said Michael. “You know, I put a lot of weight on my own shoulders because me and him might not be in this position if I would’ve left, you know if circumstances were changed. So that’s hard, it’s a really hard pill to swallow.”
Twelve months have passed and Michael continues to struggle with guilt
“It’s hard as a father, especially feeling at blame for some of it and seeing that it could have been prevented on my behalf,” said Michael.
Since that day, Michael has re-evaluated his role as a father. After spending years on the road as a truck driver, Michael now wants to stay closer to home.
“I used to be a father that felt that his main priority was to be a provider, now I realize that I can provide less and be more of a father and a husband than I was in the past,” said Michael. “It’s rearranging my priorities understanding that my priorities ain’t what to get in life, it’s what you do in life.”
Michael didn’t have insurance at the time the tornado hit and he faces huge medical bills. Since leaving his truck driving job, he continues to look for work. He hopes to get involved in the crisis management field.
As for his son, Tyler looks like your typical three-year-old boy running around, laughing and playing.
But he is also one of the youngest survivors of the April 27th storms. Tyler was thrown more than 260 yards from the Pate’s Hillsboro trailer when the EF-5 tornado hit.
He suffered a compressed skull fracture with brain protrusion and blunt force trauma.
“Because of the skull fracture, where it was located, he became paralyzed completely on the right side,” said Tyler’s mom, Andrea Pate.
As part of his rehab, Tyler is currently at UAB Children’s Hospital for constraint therapy. For two weeks, doctors cast his left arm to force his brain to once again connect with his right arm.
For a mother, watching her three-year-old son struggle is beyond trying.
“It’s hard to not just do everything for him and make him do it on his own, that’s been hard,” said Andrea.
Despite the physical injuries, Tyler shows no signs of emotional damage.
“He’s getting better, every day it gets a little better and it gets a little better for us,” said Andrea.
The Pates now take life day-by-day.
FEMA helped them buy a foreclosed home in Decatur, but it needs work. Because they’re living with Andrea’s mother in Decatur and are no longer living in Lawrence County, the Pates are struggling to qualify for extra grant money.
There’s still plenty of hill left to climb, but this family continues to put one foot in front of the other.
“It kind of is what it is and you do what you can to get back to normal, whatever that is,” said Andrea.
Community Action is working with the Pates to help them qualify for the Lawrence County grant money. The group is also helping Michael with his medical bills.