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October 30, 2013

Quadruple amputee regains independence after tornado-related illness

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Louella Aker survived a deadly tornado in southern Indiana last year with little more than a scratch, but the aftermath of the storm cost her all of her limbs and nearly took her life.

Now, the 66-year-old quadruple amputee is regaining her independence in a new home built to accommodate her disability. The exact cause of the disease that took Aker's extremities is still a mystery, but doctors believe it may have been a rare bacterial infection brought on by the March 2, 2012 tornado, an EF4 storm that leveled schools and businesses, killing 13 people in southern Indiana.

On the day of the storm, Aker recalls seeing the funnel cloud barreling toward her home in Henryville, Ind.

"When you see them on TV, they're always white," she said. "This was the dirtiest funnel cloud I had ever seen. I mean, it was just black. When I heard it roar — and it truly does roar like a freight train — I had never heard that before, it was frightening. We all hit the basement."

Aker and her family rode out the storm, and then came outside to see homes flattened and trees uprooted.

"I was just really in a daze," Aker said. "I had never seen anything so horrible and so frightening. You just wanted to sit and cry…It was the toughest thing I had ever gone through. It really was."

But for Aker, it was only the beginning. A few weeks after the tornado, she started to feel sick. She had flu-like symptoms and a fever that spiked to 104 degrees. The last thing she remembers was sitting in the emergency room, waiting to see a doctor.

Then she slipped into a coma.

She was unconscious for a month, even as doctors did exploratory surgery to try to determine the source of huge blisters on her arms and legs. The doctors found nothing, but when Aker awoke several weeks later, things had gotten much worse.

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