“They are heroes.” Freeman honors healthcare workers one month after storm

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - “They are heroes.” Freeman honors healthcare workers one month after storm

JOPLIN, Mo.—Today, Freeman Health System remembered the one month anniversary of the deadly May 22 tornado with “A Tribute to Healing.” The event allowed the health system to honor those injured or killed, as well as to show gratitude to the healthcare professionals from Freeman and other area hospitals who treated the wounded.

During “A Tribute to Healing,” a letter from U.S. Senator Roy Blunt was recited. A proclamation from Joplin Mayor Mike Woolston was read.
“As we stand here today, one month after the storm, I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of Freeman doctors, nurses, and support staff on May 22,” said Gary Duncan, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer. “Each of them will say they deserve no special recognition. Each of them will say caring for our community is simply what they do. But I disagree with the simplicity of this statement. I say they are heroes.”

The health system had on display a banner hanging from Freeman Heart and Vascular Institute, depicting a tree whose trunk is shaped from two hands stretched upward, adorned with heart-shaped leaves. The words “Taking care of Joplin with our hearts and hands” conveyed the health system’s message of hands-on, heartfelt care for the community of Joplin.

In addition, more than 500 flags were placed in the circular flower beds that run parallel to the front entrance of Freeman Hospital West. Each flag represents a patient treated at Freeman during the initial hours after the storm. Two of those flags represent ten-year-old Mason Lillard and 17-year-old Malachi Murdock. Lillard was impaled by a 1 1/2 inch-thick metal rod during the storm. Murdock suffered extensive head injuries and was in a coma for three days. Both were treated at Freeman. Helped by members of the clinical staff who cared for them, the pair shoveled dirt onto two newly planted evergreen trees.
One tree honored the healthcare workers and more than 100 private citizens who courageously and selflessly offered their service at Freeman Hospital West on May 22. The other tree is intended to honor Freeman employee Kathy Keling who died during the storm, as well as the 448 employees who lost their homes or possessions. At Freeman East, two trees will be planted, one for their healthcare workers and the other for Shyrell Smith, the other member of the Freeman family who died at the mercy of the tornado. A tree has also been planted at Freeman Neosho Hospital in honor of their staff who came to the aid of Joplin.

“These trees were intentionally selected because they are evergreen,” said Duncan. “Like Joplin’s hope for the future, their leaves will never die away. Each year on May 22, they will be lit in honor of those they represent. Each day, they will remind us of how tall we stood that night in the face of adversity.”

Duncan concluded the event by asking those in attendance to glance in the direction of Freeman Hospital West during the evening hours of June 22, when a solitary beam of light will shine into the sky until 11:30 pm. Exactly one month earlier, though it was surrounded by darkness, Freeman Hospital West was powered by generators. With the light pouring from its windows and the flood lights filling the parking lot, many in the community have said Freeman appeared to be a beacon of light, providing the only source of power strong enough to cut through the darkness.

“It is our hope that Freeman was indeed a beacon. A beacon of light and a beacon of hope for those brought to the hospital for care,” said Duncan. “This spotlight will serve as a reminder of the hope that Freeman provided on May 22 and the hope that remains in Joplin today and always.”

About Freeman Health System
Not-for-profit, community-owned, and locally governed, Freeman Health System is a 407-bed, three-hospital system. Based in Joplin, the fourth largest metropolitan area in Missouri, Freeman provides comprehensive healthcare and behavioral health services to an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com or facebook.com/freemanhealthsystem. Follow Gary Duncan, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer, at twitter.com/freemanceo.