JoAnna Neal was at work Friday morning when she received a worst nightmare call — her house was on fire, and her children were inside.
The children are biologically her sister’s, but after her sister passed away, Neal took them in as her own. The two, Jayden and Jordyn, are the lights of her life, so when she got the call, there was little thought of losing her possessions in the fire. The only thing on her mind was making sure the children made it to safety.
“When I pulled up to my home — what was my home — it was fully engulfed,” Neal said. “They were still working to try to put the fire out. Oh, I couldn’t think of anything but ‘where was my kid?’”
Neal found Jayden, her 15-year-old, in an ambulance being treated for smoke inhalation, but her 6-year-old, Jordyn, wasn’t there. She found out he had run to their landlord’s house to get help, but at the time, Neal didn’t know the extent of his injuries. Neal said she booked it to her landlord’s house, behind their property, where Jordyn told her he had been burned. The light in the house was dim and Neal couldn’t see his skin well enough. She took him outside to where the ambulance was and yelled for the attention of an EMT.
“He turned around and I said ‘My baby’s been burned, he needs to be treated as well,’” Neal said. “So he puts us in the ambulance to get his vitals he asked about his health conditions, and he checks the burns out on (Jordyn) and it’s burned down to the pink meat of his skin.”
The ambulance rushed Jordyn to Paris Regional Medical Center, where after attempting to treat him, they decided it was best to send him to a hospital in Plano due to the severity of his burns.
Neal’s anxiety was so overwhelming, she didn’t think she could drive. That’s when she took to Facebook to ask for a ride, and longtime friend Kristine Gray offered without a second thought.
“(JoAnna) has such a huge heart. She takes care of everybody else around her,” Gray said. So now it was Gray’s chance to take care of her.
Gray said there was no debate about the drive; she loves both Neal and Jordyn and knew she wanted to do everything she could to help.
“He’s just the most respectful and sweet little guy, but he doesn’t look like what he’s been through,” Gray said, mentioning the death of Jordyn’s mother due to cancer. “His life has been tragedy, after tragedy, after tragedy, but he stands tall. And he’s very intelligent. He’s just so loving and kind and adventurous. He’s just a little tough dude.”
The two jumped in the car to follow the ambulance to Plano, but when they were about 40 minutes out, they got a call: Jordyn’s injuries were too extensive for the Plano hospital, too. He needed to be taken to Parkland.
When Neal and Gray arrived at Parkland, Jordyn had been met by a doctor who gave Neal preliminary news.
“She says, ‘I just want to touch base with you, kind of let you know what we’re gonna do with him. Right now, we’re just looking at his burns — they’re pretty bad,’” Neal said.
By Monday, Jordyn was still in the hospital. His burns were so deep the doctors couldn’t treat him on a surface level and he had to go into surgery. There were complications along the way, including a high dose of anesthesia and a breathing tube, but he made it out.
“He told me that the only reason why he got burned was because he was worried about trying to save his big brother, so his big brother didn’t get caught in the house fire,” Neal said. “He’s a superhero.”
Always by Jordyn’s side, Neal hasn’t left the hospital since he was admitted on Friday.
“She doesn’t have a bed to sleep in, she hasn’t had outside food,” Gray said. “Right now they’re relying on gift cards and generosity from others.”
That’s where Gray’s fundraiser and the family’s GoFundMe account come into play. Gray set up a fundraiser on her personal Facebook page, which she said has raised around $2,000, and a GoFundMe account was set up as well and is close to $1,000. But Gray said there’s always room for more help.
The family needs material donations, like clothing and furniture, after losing all of their belongings in the fire. They’ll need a place to stay,
whether that’s a hotel, a friend’s house or a rental property. Right now, Neal’s been living at the hospital and Jayden has been at a relative’s house — that isn’t a solution. Gray said the community has already shown an outpouring of support, including furniture that’s been dropped off at her house for the family.
“There’s already been so much support from the community, it’s amazing,” Gray said. “But if people can’t give now, they can always send prayers. Prayers, prayers and more prayers.”
To donate, visit Kristine Gray’s Facebook page, or visit gofundme.com/f/nmhpyg-family-lost-everything-in-house-fire.