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Surviving a tornado

June 01, 2012 by Beth Anne Atkins

Surviving a tornado 
Evan Salerno, 3, was thrown from the top floor of his home during a deadly tornado, but recovered from serious injuries with medical care from Vidant Children’s Hospital 

GREENVILLE, NC – The storms raging outside kept Kelsey Salerno on the phone for hours that night. When her friend warned of a nearby tornado, she ran upstairs to get her infant son, Evan, out of his crib and take him to a safe room. 

She nearly had him in her arms when the unthinkable happened. The churning storm struck their house, tearing away the second floor and tossing them into the backyard. Flying debris knocked both of them unconscious. 

When she came to minutes later, her thoughts rushed to Evan. Crawling from beneath some rubble, she pulled herself up and began searching. 
Miraculously, Evan had survived with severe injuries, including a punctured lung and broken bones. 

Yet today, despite the horrific events of 2011, Evan runs and plays like any other toddler. A few scars hidden by his clothes remain as the only sign of his trauma. He plays with his model train, loves Spiderman and Sponge Bob, and tosses a ball with his parents. Thanks to the care he received at Vidant Children’s Hospital, he has recovered completely. 

“The staff was great and so accommodating,” Kelsey remembers. “We always knew what was going on. They helped us stay positive, which was very hard.” 

Evan Salerno, of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, is the 2012 Poster Child for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. He and his family will take part in the yearly Celebration Broadcast, set to air June 1 and 3 on WITN. The miracle children this year are Ava Gee, 5, of Greenville; Kennedy Dean, 7, of Wayne County; and Miranda Hale, 14, of Tarboro in Edgecombe County. The teen ambassador is Davie Swinson, 18, of Maple Hill in Onslow County. 

“This year’s miracle children are unbelievable,” says Dr. Ronald M. Perkin, co-director of Vidant Children’s Hospital and professor and chairman, Department of Pediatrics, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. “Each one’s ability to carry on with a successful life is due to a response to the medical needs we provided when they most desperately needed it. Having this hospital in the community is what that’s all about.” 

“The community shows how much it cares about children by providing contributions to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals,” he says. “In turn, their generosity grants us the resources we need to see beyond the obvious treatments and save more lives.” 

This year, the broadcast will celebrate these children and the generous donors whose gifts made their life-saving care possible. Their support has helped with the expansion of Vidant Children’s Hospital. It will add 78,000 additional square feet for children’s care, including a new kids immunosuppressed special unit with a controlled environment and special ventilation systems to reduce the possibility for infection. It will have a treatment and recovery area for children who do not need an overnight stay. A newborn convalescent area will give newborns and their families private rooms while they grow stronger. 

“Our donors make the difference for children throughout eastern North Carolina,” says Laura Lee Potter, program director for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. “They save lives and bring miracles to thousands of children each year by sharing their financial resources, volunteer hours and other types of support. Their generosity makes sure we can provide advanced medical care, close to home, to the families and children who depend on us.” 

Kelsey stayed by her son throughout his ordeal despite her own injuries. While she was tossed around by the tornado, a large object struck her face. It crushed several teeth and part of her jaw. In addition, a wall fell on her shin, cutting it to the bone. 

“I couldn’t feel any pain,” she says of that night. “I was focused on Evan.” 
Evan’s dad, Jesse Salerno, who serves as a Navy hospital corpsman (similar to a medic) with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, was training in California when he learned about the disaster. One minute, “we were playing cards,” he says, and the next, “I got the call that a tornado hit my home.” Within 24 hours, he was back home. 

During the first week, Evan was in a medically induced coma, with his abdomen open to relieve swelling caused by the trauma to his internal organs. He also had a broken femur (thigh bone) that required pins to set. He remained on a ventilator for a week. 

Jesse and Kelsey remained at their son’s side as he slowly got well enough to leave the pediatric intensive care unit and moved to the pediatric rehabilitation unit. 

“Physical therapy was so important, because he was completely immobile,” Kelsey says. “He had to relearn how to do everything after the tornado.” 

Because Vidant Medical Center has an inpatient pediatric rehabilitation unit (it’s one of only two in the state), the Salerno family could benefit from highly skilled therapists without traveling a long distance from home. 
Despite his life-threatening injuries, Evan returned home in less than a month. 

“He has a little limp, but most people don’t notice,” Kelsey says. “You would never know that something so horrible happened to him. He’s got a few scars, but otherwise he’s a completely normal toddler.” 
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