Special Reports

July 5, 2007

2 months later, he's home, healing

Danny Trent, one of the last victims of the Greensburg tornado to be released from the hospital, celebrated a new-found freedom on Wednesday.

Danny Trent, one of the last victims of the Greensburg tornado to be released from the hospital, celebrated a new-found freedom on Wednesday.

Using a walker, he made his way down the halls of Wichita's Via Christi Rehabilitation Center-Our Lady of Lourdes Campus and out the door.

Then, he climbed into his father's Dodge Durango and soon was beyond Wichita's city limits, headed home with a caravan of family members.

Wednesday marked two months since the Greensburg tornado destroyed much of his town and turned his life upside down.

It also marked the 60th day Danny had spent in a hospital environment.

The tornado fractured the neck of his girlfriend, Suleenia Charlton, who just this week was able to have her back brace taken off.

It left 40-year-old Danny with blood on his brain, a fractured neck, several broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, a punctured lung, a collapsed lung and a dislocated hip. A cut on his back came close to severing his spinal cord.

Every day since then, the two have fought back to regain the life they had before. Danny still has two to three more months of therapy, which he will do from Dodge City and Greensburg.

"I thought I'd give him his freedom on the Fourth of July," said physician Kevin Rieg, medical director of Our Lady of Lourdes. "He's doing well. He's ready."

To celebrate the day, some of the employees at the rehab center stuck a small American flag on Danny's back brace. Some had wanted him to wear a bandanna.

He refused. A man's got to have his pride, he said.

"Why, if you buy me a Harley, I'll wear that thing," he said.

Two hours later, he was in Greensburg where he shook his head as he saw the tornado's ruin for the first time.

The Trents followed a FEMA trailer into town. Not Danny's -- not just yet.

They found debris piled in front of what used to be buildings, leaves trying to make a comeback on wind-whipped trees.

He stayed for less than an hour. But in that time, Danny Trent was a celebrity.

He was named an honorary PigMaster at the town's Fourth of July picnic. The barbecue picnic was hosted by Larry Burke, a Wichita restaurant owner, and seven lawyers from Greensboro, N.C., known as the PigMasters.

The PigMasters donated their services to Hurricane Katrina volunteers and created a barbecue for the people of Greensburg.

At the barbecue, people took pictures of Danny and asked him to tell his story. He met the woman who was on the plane helping to rush him from a Dodge City hospital to Wichita's Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Francis Campus on the night of the tornado.

At the barbecue, she pinned wings on his T-shirt.

His family stopped in what used to be Danny and Suleenia's neighborhood. There were huge holes where houses once stood. Pieces of tin still hung from some trees.

Neighbors set up tents, brought in barbecues and were throwing a tailgate party.

Danny climbed out of the Durango and walked toward the group.

Friend Rob Booth promised to help Danny with therapy.

"I'll tie you to the back of my pickup and make you run behind," he told his friend, laughing. "Ah, every once in a while I'll throw you a beer... empty of course."

Danny shook his head, returning a laugh.

"You better make it a good beer," he said.

Booth promised he and Danny will be deer hunting by Oct. 1.

As children lit firecrackers a few yards away, Danny shifted his weight from one foot to the other and tried to lean against the tailgate. His mother asked if he needed to sit down.

Danny's father, Butch Trent, shook his head.

"Let him get back in there."

A few minutes later, Danny and Booth were walking side-by-side down the block together, talking like they always have.

But their celebration was cut short.

Storm clouds threatened western Kansas, so the Trents left Greensburg for Dodge City.

On their way out of town, they drove by Danny and Suleenia's property.

"There ain't nothing left," Danny said.

His and Suleenia's dream is to rebuild.

West of Greensburg, the Trents drove into a hailstorm. The noise made Danny so anxious, he cried and threw a blanket over his head.

But he got through the storm and soon was ready to sit in a "real" chair at his parents' house, where he could watch hunting shows.

Some neighbors in Dodge City brought meat, cake and applesauce salads for the homecoming. Others brought them bacon, eggs, milk, orange juice and cereal. Still others hung a "Welcome" sign on the garage and filled the Trents' house with "Welcome Back" balloons.

It will take time, said Danny's mother, Theresia Trent. "But after this, I think he should feel wanted."

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