American hero denied aid for helping tornado victims

A message is left outside a home which was heavily damages during the May 22 tornado  in Joplin, Missouri (Scott Olson / Getty Images / AFP)
May 22 began as just another work day for Mark Lindquist. A social worker in Joplin, Missouri, Lindquist was making his rounds at client group homes, about to check up on three adult men with Down syndrome. Then came the tornado.

"I could have abandoned them to save myself, but I would never do that," Lindquist tells The Associated Press. On the job and having recently completed a tornado drill at this insistence of his employer, Community Support Services, Lindquist called up his new skills to try and save the lives of the three men he was visiting that day. Despite his effort, they became just a fraction of the 162 lives taken by the Joplin tornado.

Lindquist was almost 163.

When he found after the storm, his body was beneath the rubble of the home. Every rib in his body was broken, his teeth shattered and his body: unrecognizable. Lindquist lapsed into a coma for two months.

Today, doctors are defied by Lindquist’s progress. They predicted that a recovery, if any, would leave him in a vegetative state. Less than six months later, however, Lindquist, 51, has regained vision, sight and use of his hand.

He has also accumulated more than $2.5 million in medical bills. Medical bills that workers’ comp won’t cover.

“Based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado," Lindquist’s claim with Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, his company's workers' comp provider, was denied. Despite doing his job — on the clock — and being lauded as a “true hero and inspiration to others” by the Missouri Senate, the millions of dollars of fees and counting are expected to come from Lindquist’s own pockets. He is expected to continue surgeries over the next several months, all the while taking nearly a dozen prescription pills a day. All on his own dime.

"I'm a walking miracle," he tells the AP. Now, however, he is waiting on another. Though he has received contributions by many so far, Lindquist is still a long way from footing the bill that his insurance is refusing.

"I think they need to take another look at the circumstances and revisit the claim," Rep. Bill Lant, R-Joplin, tells the AP. "What he did went beyond heroics." In the meantime, Lindquist’s workers’ compensation claim is one of only eight of over 130 denied by insurance companies.