Courage and Sacrifice…and a giveaway by Charlene Sands

I was all set to write a fun blog about wedding proposals today, but as I was working out on my elliptical machine, watching the news, a report came on about a woman- a mother-who had saved her children’s lives in a tornado that had demolished her home in Henryville, Indiana.  The story brought tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart and I thought to myself, this is what I want to write about today.  So I will save the fun proposal blog for next time and instead, we’ll talk about heroics and sacrifice.

Stephanie Decker knew the storm was going to be bad.  She ushered her two children, Reese age 5 and Dominic, age 8, into the basement, tied a comforter around them and then threw her body over them as the tornado hit.  Her home crumbled around and on top of her and she was terrified for her children.  As she lay bleeding, waiting for help, she remembered thinking, “I have to live for my kids.”

The storm and the tornadoes killed 39 people that day, 13 of whom lived in Indiana, but Stephanie Decker’s children survived, coming through the ordeal without a scratch on their bodies.  Stephanie was bleeding so badly, she thought surely she would die.  A steel beam had toppled onto her body. She managed to fashion a makeshift tourniquet to help stop the bleeding and after the storm passed, she sent Dominic for help.  Not knowing if she would make it out alive, she recorded a video message from her cell phone to her husband. 

Stephanie lost both of her legs that day, one above the knee and one above the ankle.  Her life will be forever changed.  But she saved her children and when she was asked, she said she wasn’t a hero.  “I call myself a mom.”

I choked up when I heard that.  Those of us who are mothers or know a mother’s love, understand the meaning of sacrifice.  We understand the courage Stephanie summoned and believe we’d do the same thing in her situation.  I would say Stephanie passed the “Mom” test with flying colors.  When we love so fiercely, we protect.  I would disagree with Stephanie though. I say she’s a Mom and a Hero. I would bet most of you agree with my assessment as well.

Stephanie Decker’s story is bittersweet and moving, a testament of true love.  It’s a story of great humanity, fierce protectiveness and unyielding spirit.  


When we write stories, our characters are tested time and again.  We see them go through major sacrifices along the way before they get their happily-ever-after.  In my story, my heroine Lizzie makes a supreme sacrifice for the hero, Chance Worth.  She is willing to give up the one thing she wants most in the world to save him.   I love telling fictional stories, because I am guaranteed a happy ending, but I think I’ve learned something from Stephanie Decker’s story, as well.  My imagination is not where my characters derive their strength of spirit and bravery.  I get my inspiration for my heroines from real-life women like Stephanie who look a natural disaster in the eye and say, I won’t give up without a fight. I won’t let you win.

What do you think about Stephanie Decker?  Have you ever faced a natural disaster?  Do you like reading stories of brave women who are tested, time and again?   What’s the bravest thing you’ve done in your life?  And to one commenter goes a copy of my new release, A COWBOY WORTH CLAIMING.

Be sure to join my mailing list today!  I’ll be holding an exclusive BRAND NEW-sletter Contest for members of my mailing list with great prizes!

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51 thoughts on “Courage and Sacrifice…and a giveaway by Charlene Sands”

  1. Hi Char,
    I’m finally going to be one of the first commenters intstead of the last–thanks to staying up late tonight. What a touching story about Stephanie Decker! Growing up in “tornado alley” here in Oklahoma, I’ve been through many near misses throughout my life. The giant F5 tornado that we had back in May about 12 years ago or so still holds the record of the highest windspeed ever recorded on the planet. It demolished everything in its path for miles, and was what’s known as a “long track” tornado, because it was on the ground for so long. It even ripped up the pavement on the interstate where it crossed it. Every spring, of course, we have many smaller tornadoes, but that one was a monster. So many stories of survival and determination come out of these natural disasters. THANK GOD Stephanie saved her children and was spared herself! I agree with you–she is a hero, AND a mom. When we went through the 1995 Murrah Building Bombing here in Oklahoma City, such bravery and selflessness was abundant among the rescuers and everyday people. One nurse who was at home heard about what had happened and rushed down to help, but was hit in the head by falling debris as she worked amongst the wounded and lost her own life. It’s truly amazing what the human spirit is capable of and willing to do for the love of others, especially a mother’s love for her child. There is nothing else like it in this world. God bless Stephanie and her family, and all the others like her. Thanks so much for bringing these people to light in your blog today, Char. This brought tears to my eyes, too.
    Cheryl P.

  2. Hi Charlene,

    This is such a moving story…Yes I have to agree Stephanie is a mom and a hero….The love of a mother is unconditional…I lived in TN and worked as a 911 dispatcher and we had tornado’s and there were deaths….It is so hard.

    This brought tears to my eyes….The love of a mom is like nothing else…Its amazing when a mother protects her babies…Its a love like no other…

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story…I will pray for all the people during this tragic time…I know the Creator will place his hands over all of them…May God bless….

    I love your books Charlene…They are on my favorite lists…


  3. What a great story and I did hear about this. I also know as a mother I would have done the same thing.We will all do anything to keep our children safe. I live in KY and we get all kinds of weather here. We went from Tornadoes on Friday to snow on Monday,the weather had been really wild here this year. I have been where tornadoes have been all around but not touch down. Also have been through several really bad ice storms and been without power for a week during and ice storm. When I was a teen ager I had to help my girlfriend move out of their house because of a flood. I was at her house helping move things up stairs and when we left her house we stepped off the front porch into a boat. Her father was the lock keeper so they lived near the river, so when the power company up above them opened their flood gates it flooded their house. I will never forget it.

  4. Hi Cheryl – Oh, wow. You surely have had your share of disasters between the tornados and the bombing. All we have in CA is earthquakes, and wildfires occasionally. I guess every area, is struck by nature’s force in some way, shape or form. I was riveted by this story and by Stephanie’s bravery. As a mother, that natural instinct to protect your young, came out and in this instance, saved her children’s lives. I’m glad you were up late and posted first thing. 🙂

  5. Hi Melinda – As a one time 911 dispatcher, I would imagine you’ve heard your share of frantic calls. And yes, I liked your sentiments about a mother’s love. Thanks for posting today!! 🙂

  6. Hi Quilt Lady – Oh wow. I can just picture that scene, with you opening the front door and stepping into a boat. I often wonder how you can cope with tornadoes in your area. Do you get warnings? It’s such a fluke-y thing, isn’t it? I guess you could say the same about earthquakes. I’ve lived thru 2 major ones, but luckily they didn’t hit close to my home, yet lives were lost and damage was done.

    And this has nothing to do with tornadoes, but being from Kentucky, do you ever watch Justified? I know it’s filmed here in southern California, but it’s all about Kentucky marshals. Very gritty, but great acting and stories.

  7. I heard about this story on the news and it brought tears to my eyes. It’s so touching and the mother’s love and willingness for her children simply shines through. Another part that I love was hearing the children telling her how much they needed her and for her to whole on. I think they found strength in each other. I know her life is forever changed and I wish her all the best in her recovery. A mother’s love is really something.

  8. Hi Na S.
    You’re so right, I do think they found strength in each other. I can’t imagine how those children must feel, after seeing their mom bleeding, and all that they’ve known destroyed around them. They were saved and that’s what’s most important.

  9. I call her a hero an a Mom,,who wouldnt do that for their children,,I live in TN an we had a few touch down,I put my grandson in the bathtub,,surrounded by blankets an pillows,he said Mamaw where are you going to be,I said on top of you!he said why??I said because I love you more than I do myself,an im going to protect you however I have too,,,I sat by the Tub on the floor ready to pounce,,the sirens going off ,the sky black an hail pounding ,,,an prayed,,an prayed,,an watched my grandson feel so safe he fell asleep in that bathtub,,,lots of homes in our town were destroyed but ours was not near them it passed this part of town,thank GOd,,,but I was prepared to do whatever necessary to protect him,,to give up my legs would be the easy part,to live without him would be not bearable

  10. What an amazing, inspiring story. And I’m so glad she’s still there for her children. I’ve been in storms, but nothing half as terrible as a tornado.

  11. I’ve been following Stephanie’s story on the news Charlene. What amazing courage. My heart goes out to the victims of those terrible storms.
    Incredible as her story was, most mothers I’ve known would’ve done the same thing or even sacrificed their lives to save their children. I can’t help thinking of mothers in places like Syria and Somalia, what they would do and how helpless they must feel when they can do little or nothing.
    Thanks for an inspiring blog this morning.

  12. Charlene, Thanks for bringing this story to those who may have missed it on the news. It is nice to get a bit of good news out of these disasters. So often it is just the heartbreaking ones that we hear and remember. Tornadoes hit NE TN where we now live last Spring for the first time in many years. One came within 100 yards of our house, but we took no damage. We have had our brush with them in the area with this latest breakout. I am a Red Cross disaster volunteer and worked the shelters last year. The small stories of how people are affected don’t usually make big news, but will influence their lives forever.

    I grew up on the Canadian border, so have dealt with my share of ice storms and blizzards over the years. Got stuck in the car with my dad one night in a blizzard.

    While in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer, 1968 to 1971, I had my share of disasters. 3 weeks after we got in country a magnitude 3 earthquake hit. No big deal. There were several small ones over the 3 years I was there, however, a 7.5 quake hit while I was in Manila. The streets were rolling in waves with the cars bouncing around on them. Buildings were swaying, trees, and telephone poles were whipping around. Chunks of building facades were falling into the street. I was walking down the street when it hit. People were running out of building and things were chaotic. More disturbing were the aftershocks. There were hundreds of them. They would start and you would sit there wondering how big it would get and how long it would last. Very disconcerting.

    Another time I was in Manila (I should have stayed in the boondocks where I was assigned), a major hurricane hit. There was no warning, the media said they didn’t think anyone would be interested, so everyone went to work that morning. By 10 the storm was moving in and people sent home. By the time I made it to the place I was staying, power was out, the water was mid-calf deep, and the wind/blowing rain wicked. It was an interesting several block walk from where the bus had to stop. The next day there were few trees still standing. I can’t find the records, but I think the storm was at least a 3.

  13. Just a little incident from the recent tornado outbreak in the KY-TN-VA area. One older woman who lost her husband just a few months ago, lost her house in the tornado. She had been unable to find her husband’s life insurance policy since his death. When they were digging through the rubble of her house, they found it folded neatly, untouched and undamaged, on top of what was left of her dresser in what had been their bedroom. It gives me goosebumps to think how it got there. Perhaps her husband was still looking after her. After every storm, there are stories like this, some sad, some heartwarming.
    Mrs. Decker’s story is one of the brighter spots in what is such a terrible time.

  14. Oh Vickie – your story gave me goose bumps. That little boy is lucky to have you for a grandma! I think of all natural disasters, an oncoming tornado is the scariest. You don’t know where it’s going to hit and all you can do is to make the surroundings safe. You are a hero too. I can only imagine the fear you felt and the fierce sense of protectiveness you had for your grandson!! 🙂

  15. Charlene, what an inspiring story of a mother’s love and courage. And how poingnant that she lost parts of both legs in the process of saving her children. That is the story of a true mother’s love

  16. Hi Elizabeth – I know what you mean. Not only did Stephanie lose her legs, she lost her home. But that’s secondary, because let’s face it, if given a choice, we’d take saving our children over any other detriment. Homes can be rebuilt, and Stephanie will survive to lead a productive life with her children surrounding her. Thank heavens. I agree – for those women in other countries, are helpless to save their children, it’s got to be heartwrenching.

  17. Hi Pat B– Oh, that story also gave me goosebumpies. It’s also a bit inspiring, though I do sympathize with the woman losing her hubby and house within a short time. It’s a sad thing. Being a survivor after losing a loved one, can be more devastating than the tornado itself, sometimes.

  18. I feel so bad for all these people who have been devastated. I think what if that was me. What would I do? I have no answer. I think I’m brave just to scoop up the mouse trap with a shovel and get it in the garbage. Now tying up the bag and moving it is a whole other story.

  19. HI again, Pat B– I just read your longer post! Wow, first of all, a wonderful person you are to work with the Peace Corp and the Red Cross. You surely have had some brushes with major disasters. We get earthquakes here, and after the big 1994 one hit, and our family was okay, the aftershocks came. I can relate to your story. You keep waiting, thinking…is this one going to be big. When will it stop? Will it roll? For weeks after our earthquake, we lived through thousands of aftershocks.

  20. Hi Winnie – When I heard about this story, I wanted to pay tribute to all selfless mothers and to Stephanie especially, for her sacrifice. It’s what motherhood is all about. 🙂

  21. Hi Cathy – Mice! Yikes. I thought I was a brave woman, but I turned into a screaming ninny, when a little mouse scurried across my kitchen floor. What did I do? The cliche thing, I called my husband home. I could not deal with the mouse, much to my surprise. So, I think you are a pretty brave woman!! 🙂

  22. I read your blog as I weas sitting here feeling sorry for myself following a lumpechomy from my right breast. I have absolutely nothing to be dowm about in comparison. You are so right she is a true hero and super mom. Praying for all of those who had a loss of any kind in the weather ravaged areas.

  23. Oh my goodness, Charlene. What a tearjerker. She’s definitely a hero. That’s the sort of situation none of us ever wants to face.

    We have a set up for tornadoes when there are kids around. We take them to the appropriate corner in the basement, where there is a bed and a TV — put in a movie and entertain them. In the past the kids have never even known there was a storm until it was past.

    A couple of years ago, a tornado got to within blocks of us and then split and went two directions around us. We are blessed!

  24. Charlene, I’ve been reading about this. Such a powerful story and yet most mothers would say, I think, ‘Well, of course I threw my body over my children.’
    And yet most of us aren’t ever called to do something like that. I hope I’d come through.
    One stormy day when I had three little ones at home my husband and I were watching storm clouds move toward us, still a way off. My oldest daughter, probably…six years old or so, was outside riding her bike.
    We live a long way out in the country and we were staring at the approaching clouds, not scared, just wondering when the rain would get here. There’s a road that ran along one side of our house and a steep incline upward, a fence and then the ground levels, so we can’t really see that field because of the fence. All of a sudden this…I’ll call it a dust devil not a tornado…but it was the BIGGEST dust devil I’ve ever seen, a couple of stories high…it just SWOOPED over the edge of that fence, this is at most 100 feet from our house.
    My husband is amazing in a crisis. It’s just instinct, I guess, a man of action, but he yells at me, “Get the kids in the basement.” And then he CHARGED out of the house for our other daughter.
    I was just a few steps down to the basement and that ‘thing’ hit the house. Hit is HARD. I’ve never felt anything like that before.
    And just as fast it was GONE.
    No damage. I didn’t even go on down the the basement. I went outside to see what had happened to my husband and daughter. They’d gotten hit by it too, but again, no damage.
    Weird experience.
    I said something to my husband about it later, “You ran outside into that awful wind.”
    He said, “I’d rather die trying to save my daughter than save my own life and live on for years, if she died, knowing I didn’t try.”

  25. Oh my goodness, Charlene. What a tearjerker. She’s definitely a hero. That’s the sort of situation none of us ever wants to face.

    We have a set up for tornadoes. We take the kids to the appropriate corner in the basement, where there is a bed and a TV — put in a movie and entertain them. In the past the kids have never even known there was a storm until it was past.

    A couple of years ago, a tornado got to within blocks of us and then split and went two directions around us. We are blessed!

  26. Hi Cher – I didn’t know you lived in tornado country. How scary for you. But you have a basement, which is a good thing, right? We have earthquake drills here, and you prepare for tornados and bad storms there. We all have something scary. 🙂

  27. Oh Mary – you made me tear up with that story. Your hubby said what’s in our hearts. I pray that if something has to happen, to let it happen to me, and not my kids. It’s selfish in a weird sort of way, because, I know as a parent I’d never survive, if something happened to my children and I wasn’t there to help. But at the same time, it’s the ultimate love and sacrifice to protect our little ones.

    So was it a Dust Storm that had you heading for the basement? I write about one, in my October story…set in Arizona. They had a huge, devastasting one, a few months ago where people did die. It looked like a giant gray stormy monster. Do you remember seeing it on the news?

  28. Charlene, this story had me diving for my box of Kleenex. OMG I cannot imagine what that woman was going through.. But a mother’s love is like nothing else in this world.. Your inset tribute to mothers reminds me of something I once gave my mother and I found it in some of her things just this morning, when I was cleaning out a drawer. I would love to share with everyone..
    A Mother’s Love
    Advice you depend on, Smiles when you are happy, bugs when you cry.
    Pride in your talents, warmth and affection, Memories that give you a special connection.
    A great sense of humor, interest you share, And, whenever you need her, just knowing she is there.

    I lost my mother last year and I will never have these things again, only in my heart and memories.
    God Bless Mother’s, they are the best God gave us and God Bless this wonderful mother for doing what mother’s do best, Love their children and keep them safe..

  29. Hi Kathleen- Thanks for the lovely Mother’s Love verse. I’m sorry you lost your mother. I was very close to my father, but when I lost my mother, it hit me harder. I think, because…she was my mom and moms are special. Thanks for sharing with me today!

  30. This woman’s story has touched my heart too. She was truly unselfish to put her kids’ well-being before her own. We don’t hear stories like this much anymore. Seems the ones where the mothers kill their own children get more media time. Glad to know there are still loving mothers in the world who would go to whatever lengths they must to protect their children.

    I am a tornado survivor myself. I was in an E-5 tornado that struck Wichita Falls in 1979 when I lived there. It was the most devastating thing I’ve ever had happen to me. One minute I was safe in my house and fifteen minutes later had nothing left. It almost cost us our lives and destroyed everything. When we crawled out from under the rubble and saw that everything as far as we could see was in ruins, it made us so grateful to be alive. I’ll never forget it.

    Good luck on your new release. I’m already on pre-order and can’t wait to get it.

  31. Hi Linda – Wow. I didn’t know that you survived a tornado! Linda, I am so sorry you had to go thru that. It’s one of those things, you think happens to someone else, not you. I bet surviving that puts value on human life, more than anything.

    I hadn’t thought of it that way…more attention is paid to women who harm their children and so this story about Stephanie is uplifting, in that regard.

    Thanks for the well wishes on the book!! I have Redemption on my TBR list on Kindle too. Can’t wait to start on it!

  32. I’m just bawling right now. What courage, what sacrifice. I hadn’t even heard or read this! Yet every day, as Linda says, we hear the horror stories of abuse. Grrrr.

    I can’t even imagine the terror of a tornado. Some folks fear the earthquakes we get here, but not me.

    Lovely thought-provoking post, Charlene. xoxox

  33. Oh Tanya – Sorry to make you cry. It’s such a touching story and it really struck me too in the same way. I just started to mist up. It’s funny what we get used to. I don’t fear earthquakes either…but other acts of nature scare the dickens out of me. 🙂

  34. I’ve read this story several times and it always makes my eyes tear up. She is indeed a hero. It’s amazing the lengths some women will go to in order to protect their child.

  35. I’d call her a hero and a mom.
    I’ve survived some forest fires. Some of them were closer than others.

  36. You’ve heard of Angels on Earth, well that’s
    what I would call her. That comforter was the
    wings she used to protect her babies.

    I’ve been through hurricanes before but Ike
    was terrifying. I’ll never forget hearing the
    droning sound and the sight of trees being
    whipped about by one of the tornadoes that
    accompanied the storm. Luckily the tornado
    skipped past us and my family,who slept thru
    it, was safe.

    The bravest thing we ever did was to marry &
    face the future together as a Hispanic woman
    & an Irish-American man in Texas of the 1960s.
    We’re together 51 years later & still going

  37. Hi Charlene,
    I call this brave brave woman a mom and a hero for sure! But I think all moms are heroes. Big sacrifices and small, we all do it every day. IT’s just part of the job and we do it without thinking about it, and usually without thanks too. So here’s to all moms everywhere!!!

    The bravest thing I ever did was to get up in the morning the day after my oldest son died. And every day since then. I didn’t want to, sometimes, I still don’t want to. But my younger son needed me and now his daughter does too. So what could I do? I got up and made a new live for my son and myself and was his mom every day even though I still hurt for the son I don’t have anymore. But I’m a mom, that’s part of the job.

  38. Hi Becky – You made the supreme sacrifice. Moms have it tough and I can only imagine your pain. Sending prayers and good thoughts to you, for getting up every morning and being a good mother to a family that still needs you. Hugs.

  39. Thanks Charlene, hugs to you too!! Life goes on and even when it’s not the life we thought we’d have, it’s still good!

  40. LOL, And I didn’t even remember to tell you about evacuating Tampa Bay and going to Orlando to avoid Hurricane Charlie and having it turn at the last moment and go straight over us in Orlando! Talk about freaking out!!

  41. We were lucky, no injuries, no property damage. Just a loooong weekend with like 18 people and 9 pets in the same house.

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