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The Miracle Baby

Kissimmee, Fla.—The tornado lifted Jonathan Waldick, only 18 months old, from his bed. It carried him 50 feet. It injected him into a five-foot-high clump of debris that corkscrewed itself into the splintered trunk of an oak tree.

And there, after a frantic, 30-minute search, Jonathan was found, only one foot visible but wiggling with life. There he was found, still cocooned in his Perfect Sleeper mattress, still resting on his purple striped sheet.

This week’s vicious tornadoes carried another 18-month-old toddler out of his father’s arms and to his death. But Jonathan emerged from his vault of debris with two scratches on his scalp and two tiny welts on his chin.

Relatives and friends call Jonathan Waldick “The Miracle Baby.” They call the event “The Miracle at 1400 Fair Oaks.”

Jonathan is 3 feet tall. He weighs 40 pounds. He has hazel eyes and sandy brown hair.

Here’s his story, told largely by his guardian:

Jonathan and his 4-year old sister, Destiny, lived with Shirley Driver at 1400 Fair Oaks Ave., a block outside the Kissimmee city limits. Driver, 68, is their great-grandmother. She is raising them because of family problems.

Soon after bedtime Sunday night, the tornadoes arrived. Destiny and Driver were asleep in one bedroom of the wood-frame house. Jonathan was alone in another bedroom.

Driver: “I heard the wind roar. We just got slammed. I knew it was a tornado. I grabbed Destiny. The walls were going. The roof came off.

“Destiny said, ‘Grandma, you’re holding me too tight,’ but I couldn’t let go.”

The tornado did its work and passed, though the wind still howled and rain still came in great blustery torrents. Driver stood amid her crumbled house. She still held Destiny very, very tightly.

But the other child was missing, blown away. Young Jonathan, lost in the havoc.

“I’ve got to find Jonathan,” Driver howled, mostly to the wind. “I’ve got to find Jonathan.

“Somebody help me.”

A few neighbors arrived, including Steven Vernelson.

Driver: “I looked. Lord, I looked for Jonathan. I didn’t care if I cut my foot. As long as I found him, I didn’t care. But I couldn’t find him.

“Finally, Steven saw just this little foot, over there by the tree. We saw him all folded up in the mattress like in a cocoon. He didn’t move. We thought he was dead.

“Then, he wiggled his foot.

“He’s alive. He’s alive.”

Driver spent the night in the hospital. Heart palpitations. Jonathan was fine.

“He had a magic carpet ride and never knew it,” said Delbert Gassert, Jonathan’s uncle.

On Tuesday afternoon, Driver returned to her homesite for the first time since the storm. She saw devastation, nothing recognizable as a house. She saw the spot where Jonathan was found.

Arriving in a relative’s van, she reached over and grabbed the hand of her sister, Janice Gassert, who lives nearby.

“Oh, my gosh,” Driver said, and her eyes watered. “Jonathan lived through that.”

Other relatives and even some strangers also made pilgrimages to visit the site.

The mattress and the sheet were still there, against the tree trunk, nearly invisible, deep within the mound of wallboard and furniture and tree limbs and a wrecked Ford Thunderbird.

That anyone could be injected so deeply into this seemed astonishing.

“I think God has something planned for this boy,” Janice Gassert said. “I really believe there’s a special plan.”

A few feet away, one of Driver’s old phonograph records sat atop the wreckage, left there by the wind. It was a recording by the Raker Evangelistic Party, a gospel group.

The first song on the album was called, “Oh Lord, You’ve Been So Good To Me.”

Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA, February 25, 1998