Portraits by Robert X. Fogarty. Words by Adam Karlin. Production by Jonny Rosenbloom

Bradley German remembers doing spring mowing on May 22. “It was a good, beautiful day.” Hot and sunny enough to take his shirt off while he, his wife Amanda, son Brody and stepson James Pierce hung out with two friends, joking around as the sirens started and the storm approached, even tossing quarter-sized pieces of hail at each other.

Then his friend Dave came inside and told everyone to get in the bathroom. “He’s a very nonchalant, happy-go-lucky kind of guy,” Amanda says. “And he had lost some of his color. None of us blinked or asked a question. We started moving, but four adults and three children (and two dogs) couldn’t all cram in the bathroom, so everyone crowded into the hallway instead.”

Brody, currently a second-grader, succinctly explains what happens next: “Then the walls left.”

He blacked out, then woke up soaked in his own blood, his voice was full of terror and panic, screaming, “My neck! My neck!”

“You could see three of his vertebrae,” says Bradley. “It wasn’t cut. It was like a chunk of his neck was rolled out.” Even today, the scar is impressive, like someone raised a small pink mountain range on Brody’s neck.

“I couldn’t move,” Brody chimes in; Bradley smiles at this and says, “You were moving buddy, trust me.” Brody was struggling and squirming, bloody and slippery, more so because Bradley wasn’t wearing a shirt. What followed was a hellish run through debris to nearby St. John’s hospital, which was its own small hell. Doctors were using axes to break open storage lockers to get morphine. One man with a collapsed lung was operated on with no anesthesia.

Brody was struggling the entire time, thrashing about, but was calmed down when Cinnamon, his Chihuahua, who had been left outside, miraculously made her own way through the hospital to his bedside. Eventually, the boy with a hole in his neck was transferred to Freeman hosptial; while waiting for ambulances, a stranger pulled up in his new truck. Brody, Bradley, and some doctors jumped into the back of the truck, sticking with their patient as the makeshift EMS vehicle whipped through the streets at 80 miles per hour.

Now Brody’s scar is outshone by his big smile. The muscles of his neck have been re-attached. James proudly makes the point: his foot injuries may have been less severe, but they took more time to heal due to infection. Everyone in the family is a bit of an amateur meteorologist, and Bradley is investing money in a storm shelter. He believes open dialogue is the way forward.

“We have amazing kids, and we hide nothing from them. We’re completely open with them. That’s how you deal with this.”

I Survived