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University of Missouri

Living in the Alley

Nursing doctoral student provides care in Moore aftermath.

In 2011, Deidre Bales‐Poirot, BSN ’05, MS ’08, and husband Severin Poirot, BA ’00, were vacationing in Cancun when they learned that a massive EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., where they had lived from 2002‐09. It was difficult watching the graphic footage roll across the television from 1,000 miles away. But the hardest part was that their two young children were staying with their grandmother in Joplin. The tornado missed her house by about four blocks.

Moore tornado

An hour after the 2013 Moore tornado, Deidre Bales‐Poirot helped EMS crews set up backboards and intubation kits at Plaza Tower Elementary School. She still volunteers with the Oklahoma City Red Cross branch to assist with the continued disaster relief efforts, as well as with the Junior League of Oklahoma City. Photo by Alex Yaffe.

When they returned home to Moore, Okla., Bales‐Poirot tried to offer comforting words to son Alex, 4, and daughter Allysun, 10.

I told my kids six weeks after that tornado in Joplin, ‘You’ve been through one EF5 tornado. There’s already been one touch down here [the 1999 Bridge Creek‐Moore tornado]. You’re never going to go through that again,’ ” Bales‐Poirot says.

On May 20, 2013, she was kicking herself for making a promise she couldn’t keep. As she shoved her kids — now 12 and 6 — into their 8 feet by 4 feet storm shelter, they braced themselves for the Moore tornado.

Armed with an emergency radio, a flashlight, helmets and their computers — “My husband and I both have our dissertations [saved] on them,” says Bales‐Poirot, a doctoral student in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “We’re not going to lose those.” — the family waited in darkness for 45 agonizing minutes.

When the sirens stopped, Bales‐Poirot emerged from the storm shelter to assess the damage. Sitting on top of a hill, their house was OK, but at the bottom of the hill, “it was mass chaos,” Bales‐Poirot says.

Deidre Bales-Poirot

Deidre Bales‐Poirot was recognized by the MU Sinclair School of Nursing’s alumni organization with the PhD Student Award for Overall Excellence for the 2013–13 school year. Photo courtesy of Deidre Bales‐Poirot.

Bales‐Poirot, who works as an on‐call pediatric nurse practitioner at the Children’s Hospital at Oklahoma University Medical Center, slowly made her way toward a triage station, where EMS guided her to Plaza Towers Elementary School where a triage station was set up. Working alongside 20 others, Bales‐Poirot spent about five hours doing anything she could, from tracking down supplies to fielding questions from shell‐shocked family members to assessing and treating people living in nearby neighborhoods.

But by early evening, the reality of the situation began to sink in.

We were [setting up] backboards and intubation kits,” Bales‐Poirot recalls. “We were hoping they were going to bring people out [of the school]. I saw them pull off walls and bring out desks.”

When, instead of survivors, she started seeing smaller classroom materials being brought out —backpacks and little pink folders — Bales‐Poirot realized it had gone from a rescue mission to a recovery mission. That was the hardest part, she says.

the Poirot family

Despite surviving the 2011 Joplin tornado and the 2013 Moore tornado, Deidre Bales‐Poirot, and husband Severin Poirot, don’t have plans to move out of Tornado Alley. From left: Alex, Deidre, Severin and Allysun. Photo courtesy of Deidre Bales‐Poirot.

Bales‐Poirot returned home to her family and half‐jokingly, half‐seriously, told her husband they should move out of Tornado Alley.

But they can’t leave. Her work with BeLieving in Native American Girls (BLING), a juvenile delinquency and HIV intervention program at a residential boarding school for American Indian youth, and her husband’s studies as a journalism doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma, keeps them there.

So does her work at the hospital.

Whenever I’m here, I ask people what their situation is at home, especially when prescribing medicines,” says Bales‐Poirot, who avoids writing prescriptions for medicines that have to go in a refrigerator when she knows the person is still living in a hotel.

I’m a lot more sensitive to people.”