Storm chasers reunite with teen they rescued in Joplin tornado

Wednesday marks the second anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin and Duquesne, Missouri.  This year's theme continues with the message of healing from the past with strength to rebuild.

For two storm chasers their path of healing came to happy end last month when they were reunited with a tornado survivor they thought was dead.

The physical marks on the young man in this story are permanent but he says that's not holding him back from anything.

Warning:  Descriptions, images and video will be extremely graphic


May 22, 2011 - Joplin, Missouri

Sixteen year old Steven Weersing was riding in a car with some friends on Range Line Road when they got caught in the tornado.

"It was sunny where we were at and then in three seconds, it just turned black," Steven says.  "That's when we heard this loud noise and rocks were flying into the car, and I stuck my arm out and hung on to the roof and it rolled over on my arm."

"I just remember someone coming and asking if we needed any help, and my friends said 'yeah, my friend is hurt really bad.'"

The good Samaritans were two storm chasers, Sean and Trisha Wilson from Owasso, Oklahoma.

"When I saw Steve it looked like he had been skinned alive," says Trisha.  "His arm was hanging.  We saw his lungs and the whole side of him was open."

"They could see my heart beating," Steven says.

"We thought Steven would die in our truck," Trisha says.

Sean and Trisha took Steven to Freeman Hospital.

That was the last time he saw the two of them before they headed back to Oklahoma.


Clinging to life

Steven was in a coma for one week.

"That scar right here all the way to here, Freeman sewed it up and then it started to get worse," he says.

Steven was transported to Children's Hospital in Kansas City.

"When they opened it, it just kind of tipped open and they found a bunch of gross stuff in there they had never seen before," Steven says.

Steven was in a coma in Kansas City for 15 days and laid in intensive care for two months while doctors repaired what was cut organ deep and battled a flesh eating fungus that also infected bone marrow.

"They cut my ribs out because it had gone to my ribs.  So they cut four or five of my ribs out.  They cut a lot of muscle, tissue, and skin out, and the outside of my lung, the lining of it is gone."


The one year anniversary of the tornado

On the first anniversary of the May 22, 2011 tornado Sean and Trisha posed for a picture in Cunningham Park with a few others they helped rescue that day.

One person was missing.

"When it came to that day, the anniversary, we were sad, we were heartbroken," Sean says.  "We were happy that we had those people there with us, but Steve was a missing part of that puzzle."

"The thing that keeps me going is, thinking that we did some good," Sean continues.  "We were able to help but Steve was always a burden on my heart, thinking he'll never have a life."

Sean and Trisha hadn't expected him to live when they dropped him off at the hospital one year earlier.


'Pray for Steven'

In April 2013, nearly 23 months after the tornado, Trisha saw a Facebook post.

"There was a picture on Facebook of a Steven - it said 'Pray for Steven' and he had a really bad chest injury, and I just thought, just maybe that could be him," says Trisha.  "I couldn't see if he had an arm injury and that was a big part of what we remembered about Steven."

After a recent surgery Steven posted a picture of himself on Facebook, which was shared, and eventually Trisha saw it.

"I just thought, just maybe that could be him," Trisha says.

"She messaged me saying 'we saved a guy named Steven, we want to talk to you somehow,'" says Steven.

"We went over every detail," Trisha says.  "I cried to him on the phone and he said 'don't cry' and I said 'I can't help it because we thought for two years you were gone.'"

One day after talking on the phone the group, complete this time, met again for a picture in Cunningham Park.

"We told everyone 'you're in our group now, you're our family,'" says Trisha.

"Knowing who saved my life, I've been looking forever," says Steven.


Just the beginning

Steven still needs surgeries, too many to count, some of them to stretch skin over his stomach to protect his insides.

"Look past everything because in the end, it'll be better," says Steven.

"For the people whose lives have been changed, not just by a tornado, but other tragedies, Steven is a perfect picture that if you just have some hope and if you just live one day at a time, one breath at a time, sometime things are going to be a lot better," says Sean.

Steven says he's not only going to keep his life, but enjoy it.

The day of our interview Trisha and Sean gave Steven a gift.  A new emergency storm radio.

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