(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) — Faced with having her house blown away by a tornado that struck her town last week, Indiana resident Stephanie Decker’s motherly instincts kicked in as she used her body to shield her two young kids from the storm. But her heroic efforts came at a price: she lost both her legs in the process.
“I knew my leg was barely attached or it was severed. I didn’t know which but I knew it was bad. If I didn’t get help soon, I was going to bleed out,” Decker told ABC News, which interviewed her Monday night from her hospital bed in Louisville, Ky.
Decker, 37, and her family were smack dab in the middle of a tornado outbreak Friday that included 140 reported twisters, 76 confirmed landings and 39 deaths.
“It was nothing I expected,” she said. “I never, ever thought in a million years my house would be blown away.”
Decker was determined to keep her kids safe, and her actions saved them, but at a steep cost. Not only was her home lost, but both of her legs had to be amputated late Friday — one just below the knee, the other just above it.
“I assumed I was safe and I heard the roar like a train, and I heard it behind me, and I knew it was coming,” she recalled on Monday. “And it was so loud that I knew that I needed to do something different. I knew staying put wasn’t going to work.”
So Decker acted. She dashed down into her home’s basement with son Dominic, 8, and daughter Reese, 5. As the house began to disintegrate she tried to shield them with a comforter.
“I remember the whole thing,” Decker said. “I stayed conscious the whole time. I couldn’t afford [to pass out]. They needed me. They had to have me, so I had to figure out what to do. And my son is a hero. He went to get help.”
Both Decker’s legs were smashed. She also suffered a punctured lung. Her children, however, were unscathed.
Next, it was her son’s turn for heroism. He knew his mother was hurt and he crawled out from under his mother and dashed over to a neighbor’s house.
Help soon came and Decker was evacuated to the hospital.
Overnight, her husband, Joe Decker, tearfully said that the flattened house on Henryville Road had been their dream house. Stephanie Decker had told her husband she always wanted to have the children’s handprints imprinted in the foundation’s cement, because “we were never gonna leave here.”
And there they are today. Small prints, with “Reese,” and “D” for Dominic scrawled in the concrete, an indelible testimony to a family still intact.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Matt McFarland, CNN
Parija Kavilanz, CNN
Sara Ganim and Eric Levenson, CNN
Frank Pallotta, CNN