Miranda Lewis (’08) and (’11): Joplin medical center media/promotions coordinator
June 10, 2011
Miranda Lewis received her Master of Organizational Leadership from Evangel University on May 6, 2011. Having also earned her undergraduate degree in communication from Evangel in 2008, she felt well-equipped to succeed in her career as media/promotions coordinator in the Public Relations department at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri.
What she didn’t know that sunny graduation morning was that in just two weeks, her academic preparation – as well as her life skills and her faith – would be tested in a way for which no classroom or boardroom could have possibly prepared her.
On May 22, 2011, her lifelong home of Joplin, Missouri, was hit by the single deadliest tornado in the United States since modern recordkeeping began. And the hospital where Lewis works took a direct hit by the twister that cut a 6-mile-long and 3/4-mile-wide swath through the city. Miranda was suddenly thrust into the media spotlight in the nation’s biggest news story.
Miranda and her husband were at home on the east side of Joplin when the storm began. They went next door to her sister’s house to wait out the tornado warning and help calm their two nieces. At 5:42 p.m., Miranda received the first text message that the hospital had been hit. Because Miranda serves on the hospital’s disaster team, she was expected to report to the work as soon as she and her family were out of immediate danger.
Soon the sirens stopped and it was clear that Miranda’s family had been spared the wrath of the storm. At about 6:15 p.m., Miranda’s husband dropped her off about six blocks from the hospital – as close as they could get due to the traffic conditions. “I was running down the street in the pouring down rain, dodging cars and jumping over live power lines.”
Miranda describes hearing gas rushing from the building and says there was an urgency to evacuate the area due to the risk of a gas explosion. She continued running down the street, in search of the Weather Channel crew, to begin getting the word out to the media about where patients and wounded citizens should go.
Miranda says it was in that moment, running down 26th Street, that she experienced the first feelings of fear for her life. “I could hear gas blowing, people and chaos everywhere, nothing but destruction everywhere,” she says. “And I thought, ‘This is it. I am going to be one of the statistics from this storm.’” Thankfully her worst fears were not realized.
In the following days, she noticed the statue of Jesus still standing in the hospital courtyard – one of the only things untouched by the tornado. And she saw the hospital’s cross still standing, with broken stained glass surrounding it everywhere. These images reminded her that she and the people of Joplin were not alone in the storm.
“To see the massive destruction and then understand that with just the five minutes warning that the hospital had, only 5 out of 183 patients were lost; it’s amazing,” she says. “Yes, the loss was great; but it could have been so much greater. You realize that it’s only by the grace of God that anyone survived.”
In the seven days following the tornado, Miranda worked about 120 hours. In the beginning she was fielding requests for media interviews and utilizing the media to get the word out about the needs that the hospital had. In the early hours, Memorial Hall (a nearby community building) was utilized as a make-shift clinic where hospital patients could be stabilized before being sent to hospitals in neighboring cities for more long-term care. “We needed pain meds, antibiotics, chest tubes, etc.,” she says. “Doctors would give me their requests and I would get them out to the media.”
She says the chaos of the situation was nearly crippling in the immediate hours following the tornado. “Of course we’ve practiced drills and planned for emergencies, but in no drills do we plan for the entire infrastructure of the hospital to be gone,” she says.
With the hospital destroyed, Miranda says her office is now “wherever I am.” Without a computer, she does all of her work from her phone, dividing her time among the field hospital, the command center at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, and Memorial Hall – where the hospital still has a clinic. Her duties vary from day to day. She works to get information out to patients, giving them information about where they can see their doctors and assuring them the hospital is still here – even without a building at this time. She also fields media interviews, hosts news crews from around the nation, and gives tours of the makeshift facilities they are now using.
She says she draws on her Evangel education daily. “I always believed that communications was a good profession,” she says. “But it was only recently through this experience that I grasped the impact that you can have with a career in communications. I have been so grateful for my training at Evangel, both my undergrad and my graduate. I use what I learned every single day.”
She believes the spiritual foundation she received at Evangel prepared her well for the enormity of the task she is now facing. “The compassion that EU embodies and has taught me has allowed me to really open up my arms to the people I am working with and serving.” She also says she is strengthened by the prayers she is receiving from Evangel every day.
“Not everyone can say that about their college experience,” she says.