'I couldn't sit there and watch': Texas father saves trapped daughter from tornado
Shawn Zeleny's quick decision to save his 17-year-old daughter from an EF-2 tornado is a decision he said he didn’t think twice about
FORT WORTH, Texas – When storms, strong winds and tornados hit North Texas on Monday, a father had a fast, reflexive reaction that he needed to save his daughter no matter the consequences.
Shawn Zeleny spoke to FOX 4 Friday from his Fort Worth hospital room, sharing the second he knew he needed to sacrifice his life in order to save his daughter.
He’s suffering from broken bones all over his body, and likely has a long road of recovery ahead.
"I couldn’t sit there and watch. I couldn’t sit there and watch my baby die. I couldn’t live with myself. I had to get out there and do something," he said.
Zeleny’s quick decision to save his 17-year-old daughter from an EF-2 tornado is a decision he said he didn’t think twice about.
"I would’ve done it for any of my family. I would’ve done it for all my family," he added.
Friday afternoon, from his hospital bed, Zeleny though back to the tense moments Monday evening.
Zeleny remembers winding down for bed inside his south Burleson, home when the wind outside started to pick up.
"And I notice the lights, they flickered. Flicker, flicker, flicker," he recalled.
Within seconds, a Tornado Warning was issued for Johnson County.
Zeleny told his wife to head to the bathroom.
But his daughter, Brittaney Deaton, was staying outside in a travel trailer parked on their property.
So Zeleny opens the front door.
"The air is blowing now and blowing into the house. It’s circulating and I run to the travel trailer," he recalled. "It’s 50 yards from our front door. I open the door and it stops. I’m like, ‘Open the door!’ And she goes, ‘I can’t, it’s stuck.’"
The strong winds slammed the trailer’s steps against the door, trapping her inside.
Zeleny shoved the steps out of the way.
His daughter jumped out and started to sprint to the main house.
"As I was turning, I turned to my right to get back to house. The whole thing came down onto of me," he said. "It rolled, knocked me into the ground and then it rolled off of me, and I was like, ‘Oh, I can breathe!’ Because I couldn’t breathe, and then of course it was boom in my head."
The RV trailer crushed Zeleny face-first in the mud, unable to move his legs.
With debris and hail pelting his back, the brave father was losing blood fast.
Zeleny was eventually loaded into the ambulance and rushed to the ICU.
He was conscious the whole time.
"Ball and socket surgery on the femur, because the ball from the femur broke off the bone," he said.
Four days later, Zeleny is recovering from surgery on his left hip, along with broken ribs, a broken nose, and his ear sewn back on.
Sheetmetal also left scrapes and bruises across his face.
As Zeleny’s injuries start to heal, the flashbacks from Monday night are still vivid, including a moment of weakness.
"I thought to myself, I think I am dying," he recalled. "Right then and there, I prayed, but that last ditch and sob story lasted a whole ten seconds, if that. I was like, ‘No, I am not dying. I have too much to live for.’"
Like his daughter’s graduation next month.
The high school senior hopes to become a neonatal nurse.
A dream her father made sure would come true.
"When you love somebody that much, they will lay your life for you and you lay your life for them," he added.
Zeleny will stay in the Fort Worth hospital over the weekend, hoping to be transferred to a rehab facility, where he will stay for two weeks.
He then will be in a wheelchair for at least the next few months.