Young survivors of Joplin tornado face a long recovery

In a pre-operation room at Children’s Mercy Hospital, teenager Lage Grigsby and his mom are fussing about socks.

The socks are hospital-issued. Gray, with bumpy rubber on the bottom so patients don’t slip on the floor.

Lage doesn’t want to wear them, or at least he’s acting like he doesn’t. Jessica Grigsby bends down to put them on. Lage resists. They laugh. And the game goes on for a few moments until the boy gives in.

Outside, in a bright hallway, a gurney waits to take him into surgery.

For the next few hours a surgical team will piece together the teen’s skull, which fractured in two places when an EF-5 tornado cut through Joplin on May 22. Since that night, Lage, 14, has carried two sections of skull in his abdomen, stashed there by a Joplin neurosurgeon to keep the bone alive. The doctor also removed a 4-inch sliver of the teen’s damaged brain.

On this day, Tuesday, the surgery is to reattach those pieces to provide permanent protection for Lage’s brain, which swelled after the injury and is now healing. For Lage’s parents, the surgery is another step in their journey to make the boy who always loved to play soccer and ride horses healthy again.

Many children injured in the storm are taking a similar path.

Although authorities don’t know exactly how many of the more than 900 people injured were children, first responders and doctors and nurses can still see their faces, recall their stories.

A little boy with a massive neck laceration that exposed his spine. Kids with broken bones and head injuries. A 3-year-old boy whose foot was nearly sliced in two.

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