Cindy Popejoy is celebrating her 18th year as a labor and delivery nurse. While her path has been unusual - she was caring for a patient on the second floor of Moore Medical Center when it was destroyed in the May 20, 2013 tornado - she would never do anything else.


by Traci Chapman – staff writer/photographer

The most difficult day of Cindy Popejoy’s professional life was also a positive, a day that ended with a new life and a new path.
It was May 20, 2013 – and what started as just a regular shift as a labor and delivery nurse at Moore Medical Center would change Popejoy’s life forever.
“Moore’s labor and delivery unit was an amazing facility,” Popejoy said. “We were able to build everything just the way we wanted it, we got to design just how we thought it would be the best for everyone.
“It was just a wonderful experience, for the patients and for those of us lucky enough to work there,” she said. “It was designed so mother and baby could be together throughout the entire experience – during labor and delivery, of course, but also post-partum, all the way through discharge.”
The unit was dedicated to making the few days mothers and their new babies were there the most special time possible, Popejoy said. Staff gave new mothers massages before they went home, and several patients came back to deliver their next child.
“It’s hard to describe the atmosphere and how special it was,” Popejoy said. “I thought I would retire from Moore.”
Then came May 20, 2013. That Monday started normally enough – Shayla Taylor, who has described her own perception of what happened several times – was at Moore Medical for the birth of her second child. Her husband Jerome and 4-year-old son, Shaiden, were right beside her.
“She was at 9 cm, and we gave her an epidural – the baby wasn’t doing great on the monitor, so when we got the first tornado warning, we decided we needed to keep her upstairs,” Popejoy said. “I’d been with her throughout the day, so I think that helped her comfort level when things started to escalate.”
Everyone else, including Jerome and Shaiden Taylor, were ushered downstairs to the facility’s cafeteria and emergency room when it became clear the tornado was not going to veer away. That left Popejoy, her manager and a scrub tech with the expectant mother in a second-floor operating room that had no windows.
As the tornado continued on its collision path with the hospital, Popejoy said she and her coworkers did what they could to protect Taylor. Placing pillows and blankets from the warmer all around and over her, the three healthcare workers locked arms over their patient and waited for the worst.
“It was an indescribable situation,” Popejoy said. “It seemed to go on forever, although it was probably just a few minutes – first, there were ceiling tiles and insulation falling all over the place, then the doors blew down and the wall collapsed.
“When it was over, we could look out and see the Imax (then Moore Warren) theater and Interstate 35 just standing there looking out of the room,” she said.
Popejoy had stopped the epidural and administered a shot to Taylor to attempt to slow her contractions as the tornado approached; in its aftermath, it became clear the new challenge was finding a path out of the operating room, so she could be transported to another hospital in time to give birth.
“It was weird, trying to find a way out and everything looked different,” Popejoy said. “There was a car blown through a window and just debris everywhere – then we started smelling gas and knew we needed to get out of there quickly.”
With no flat board at their disposal, Popejoy and her colleagues were relieved when one of the hospital’s pediatricians made his way to them, as well as EMSA personnel and staff from the nearby Harley Davidson dealership. The group made it out and to an ambulance, and Popejoy accompanied Taylor on her ride to Norman Regional Hospital.
“She gave birth to a beautiful little boy, who they named Braeden Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us,’” Popejoy said. “It seemed very appropriate.”
While the day ended on a happy note, with Taylor and her son – as well as everyone else in the hospital at the time the tornado struck – healthy and unharmed, Popejoy was faced with something she would have said the day before was unthinkable – the job she loved for eight years was gone.
“I really struggled with finding my place after the tornado,” she said. “Norman offered me a spot, of course, but it was just not what I was looking for, and I worked for a while at Deaconess, but it was nights and just wasn’t what I wanted either.”
It was through her daughter and a friend that Popejoy would find a place that called to her, much as Moore Medical had all those years ago, she said. An interview with Integris Baptist Hospital’s labor and delivery unit meant an immediate job offer – and a new path for the woman who spent her life taking care of mothers and their babies.
“I just immediately knew, I love it here and I can’t imagine going anywhere else,” Popejoy said. “We have a great team, and the concept is like what we had in Moore, where the moms and babies stay together, something I think is so important.”
Now in her 18th year as an RN, Popejoy is more committed than ever to the career she always knew she wanted, and that day in May 2013 not only ultimately gave her a new start – it also was the start of a deep friendship.
“I still have a relationship with her (Taylor) – she went to nursing school and works as an RN at St. Anthony’s,” Popejoy said. “Three boys were born during that day, including Immanuel – we call them the ‘Nado Boys’ and recently had a birthday party for them.
“It’s things like that, those deep relationships and the feeling you get when you know you’ve taken care of someone, no matter the circumstances – I just can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.

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