As a massive tornado swept through the Oklahoma City area Monday afternoon, Moore Medical Center stood directly in the path of destruction.
The building was pulverized by the 200 mph winds, sending patients and staffers scrambling to safety zones located in the center of the hospital. Miraculously, all the staff, patients and families survived the storm.
That includes nurse Cheryl Stoepker, who used her own body to protect a newborn she’d delivered barely an hour earlier. When she heard news of the approaching twister, she wheeled the newborn and his mother down to the cafeteria, a windowless room on the first floor of the hospital.
“It was dark, that was the first thing that told us something was happening,” she told PoliticsNation on Tuesday. “We could hear the hail hitting the building even though we were on the first floor and it’s a two-story [building],” she explained.
“So we at that point got down on the floor, patient and myself, took her baby, put him in laps, and we hugged, and we started praying,” she said. “The baby was a little over an hour old, didn’t even have a diaper yet at that point, but mom and I held the baby and prayed and made it through.”
When the storm passed, Stoepker and her patient were forced to climb out in the darkness, navigating around debris as she tried to push the new mother and her child out in a wheelchair. They made their way out alongside one of her colleagues, herself 33-weeks pregnant, and pushing yet another infant and mother who’d just given birth. Eventually the wreckage was impossible to wheel through, and her patient, with only a few minutes of recovery from labor, walked–barefoot–out of the building.
Only 24 hours later, she’s still coming to terms with her experience. “It’s hard to describe and I’m still trying to deal with it and figure out what happened,” she said. As Rev. Sharpton said, this hero who saves lives and cares for people everyday in ordinary circumstances was able to keep a precious patient alive in extraordinary circumstances too.