Amid Tragedy, the Thunder Helps Oklahomans Recover

Janna Ketchie couldn’t find her three-year old and six-month old boys. At long last they did get reunited, and on Tuesday the Thunder visited her and her family at OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.

A nightmare situation for any mother, Ketchie feared the worst on Monday afternoon when she walked outside in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Moore. Knowing both of her sons were in a local day care that was destroyed by the storm, Ketchie tried desperately to get any word about the fate of her young children.

“Trying to get a word on if my boys were okay was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and probably will ever go through,” Ketchie said. “No mother should ever have to go through not knowing where their kids are, if they’re okay and if you’re going to see them again.”

With limited transportation, Ketchie discovered that her children were no longer at the day care, but was delivered a wonderful message – that Grayson, 3, and Brayden, six months, were both at the Children’s hospital. Miraculously Brayden emerged without so much as a scratch, but Grayson sustained some injuries.

Sadly, unlike many people in the Moore and Oklahoma City, the Ketchie’s story has a happy ending. Both of their children will be okay, and as they were recovering, they were one of the many families the Thunder visited at the Children’s Hospital the day after the tragic storm. Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb, Hasheem Thabeet, DeAndre Liggins and Head Coach Scott Brooks all met with families recovering from the horrific tornado in the PICU. The highlight of the day was when Westbrook, despite being in a wheelchair as he recovers from his torn right meniscus, played with Grayson, exchanged high-fives and blew bubbles.

“He played with Grayson so wonderfully,” Ketchie said. “It’s so awesome. They’re great guys… It’s amazing to see that he’s a professional basketball player who we know from nobody and he’s blowing bubbles with my son to make my son feel better. It’s amazing.”

While they’re on television and play basketball for a living, every member of the Thunder organization is a human being and an equal part of this Oklahoma City community as every other person. As a result, the emotions were palpable in the hospital.

“It’s tough to come in here and be with the families when their child is in pain, but it’s also good to see them smile and have a sense of enjoyment after the disaster yesterday,” Westbrook said.

The Ketchie family was, all things considered, in good spirits and decent shape. As the Thunder players and Coach Brooks continued to move through the hospital, they encountered families in more difficult circumstances. In true Oklahoma fashion, however, the children, parents and siblings were all resilient in the face of their adversity and appreciated the visit from the Thunder.

“I saw some strong hearts in there,” Thabeet said of the families.

As the Thunder made its way through different sections of the hospital, the realization grew that there were real heroes working in the hospital. After issuing a “code black” warning to identify an impending weather situation and then a “code yellow” which signified a major disaster, no hospital staff was allowed to leave. As a result, the staffers have been working tirelessly since Monday afternoon to help tornado survivors recover.

Kim Prato, Child Life Specialist in the PICU at the hospital led the players around on Tuesday and explained the process of what occurred there over the past 36 hours. Recognizing that Prato and the rest of the staff have been instrumental in saving lives and helping those in need, the Thunder players and Coach Brooks made sure to greet, take photos with and personally thank the staffers.

“It’s hard not to get emotional,” Prato said. “Being acknowledged, being appreciated is very helpful especially in a time where you’re hurting for your community. Not very many of us slept last night. We’re going on two very long days. … To (have the Thunder) give back and say thank you to the healthcare providers is overwhelming.”

In the coming days, weeks and even months, there will be plenty of Oklahomans to help, support and thank as together the people here rebuild lives. The Thunder will continue its efforts and today was a perfect start to that process as Rumble, Thunder Drummers and Thunder Girls visited two Oklahoma Blood Institute locations and Thunder business staff volunteered with the Oklahoma Food Bank in relief efforts.

In addition, the Thunder organization and Kevin Durant each donated $1 million to the Oklahoma Red Cross and other relief organizations. While the professionals are in Moore clearing the area and ensuring its safety, others in Oklahoma, including the Thunder, have donated their time, energy and finances to help in any way that they can.

“A lot of people want to help, which is great,” Westbrook said. “You just try to find a way where you can help the most and find a way to make your part known. I think today was a good day to come to the hospital and do what we can.”

It was no surprise that these players and coach Brooks didn’t blink when the opportunity to make a visit arose. The Thunder organization and this Oklahoma City community are tied intrinsically to one another and share the same values of hard work, patience, perseverance and toughness. The people of Oklahoma give their support to the Thunder in the community and each night in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

While Oklahomans are inspired by the Thunder, it is clear that those in the organization are even more emotionally moved by the special bond that exists between themselves and the people here. As a result, visits to give back like the one today at the Children’s Hospital are second nature for the team.

“All of that counts,” Liggins said. “It’s important because there are a lot of people that care about us… We feel like we have to (give back) and more and do as much as we can.”

“We dedicate a lot to our community,” Thabeet said. “Without them, I don’t think we would be the team that we are. To be able to come back and give back was great.”