Wayne, NE tornado victim returns from three months in rehab
WAYNE, Neb. (KTIV) A northeast Nebraska man injured in last October's EF4 tornado, returned home, Friday.
John Dunning suffered the most severe injuries of anyone, and had to spend three months at a rehab hospital in Lincoln.
Friday, friends and coworkers lined up to welcome Dunning home.
Members of the Wayne, Nebraska community theater, where John Dunning often takes the stage, anxiously awaited his arrival.
"It's been such a long journey for him,” said Mollie Spieker, a close family friend and fellow actor.
On October 4th, Dunning and a coworker, Dr. Michael Anderson, were driving back from a conference, when an EF4 tornado barreled through town, and they found themselves in the eye of the storm.
"When you see that much destruction you just figure there are going to be fatalities. The fact that we didn't have any was just phenomenal,” stated Wayne Mayor, Ken Chamberlain.
However, 19 people were injured. Dunning suffered the most severe injuries. As he and Anderson took cover in a ditch, a dumpster crushed Dunning's left leg, and knocked him out. Friends feared they might lose him.
"Nobody really knew at that point if when he came out of the coma if he was just going to be the same old John,” recalled Spieker.
Dunning's return was the morale boost Wayne needs. Recently, they learned one the businesses hardest hit by the tornado will not reopen, leaving more than 130 people out of a job.
"Just to have John coming back is another point of uplifting the community and driving us forward,” said Nick Muir, who’s been filling in for Dunning.
At Wayne State College, where Dunning serves at Chief Information Officer, his colleagues lined the parking lot with signs and balloons. They cheered as a motorcade led by the Wildcat Car, led him back home.
Friends said the hit left Dunning with a lack of motor control and sense of touch. One thing his hasn't lost is his sense of humor.
As he got out of the car with the help of a cane, he said, ”If I'd known there was going to be a party I would have dressed better."
There's no word on when he'll return to work, but Wayne State's anxious for that day to come.
"We're glad to have him back, because he's such an integral piece of what we do here,” Anderson said, holding the ‘O’ in the “Welcome Home” sign the group formed.
Dunning seemed thankful to be back.
"Thank you so very much. It's good to be home. Thank you. We'll be seeing you soon,” Dunning said before heading home.
On his latest journal entry on his CaringBridge website Dunning wrote, "…a chance for us to cheer ourselves. The storm didn't win.”
His return was a victory celebration not just for him, but for the whole town.