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Tornado survivor encourages others to never take life for granted

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APISON, HAMILTON COUNTY (WRCB) -

Many survivors of a deadly tornado outbreak that killed more than 80 people in the Tennessee Valley are reflecting on the day that changed their lives forever.

Thursday marks the sixth anniversary of the devastating April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak. Among those survivors are Wendy Ellis and her son Andrew Ellis, 14, of Catoosa County.

The storm tore their family apart and the events of the day are still fresh in their minds. 

“I still get emotional talking about it,” Wendy told Channel 3, while fighting back tears. 

Andrew, then eight years old, took cover in a bathtub inside his grandmother’s mobile home as she tried to shield him with her body.

"What I remember is she was gripping the bathtub and she just let go screaming my name,” said Andrew.

The mobile home was in the direct path of a tornado and they didn’t know what was coming.

The twister ripped the home apart, tossing Andrew several hundred feet away.

“I woke up screaming for her because I was still in that state of being in the tornado,” Andrew told Channel 3.

Andrew was the sole survivor. His great-grandmother, grandmother, cousin and 17-year-old brother, Adam, were all killed in the storm.

“I try not to think too much about it,” said Andrew.

After undergoing many surgeries and learning to walk again, Andrew is now living a healthy and happy life. He is finishing up his 8th grade year and is looking forward to starting high school in the fall.

“I was granted a 50% chance of living and now I've played football. I'm running around just being a kid,” Andrew told Channel 3.

Today, the family chooses not to focus on what the tornado took but what it gave them.

"It's just all how you take what's thrown at you and we've opted to go down the road in a positive way but we use it as a way to help others too,” said Melissa.

The mother and son say the storm made them stronger.

They don’t do anything different to mark the anniversary but continue to share their story because they say it’s therapeutic.

Wendy and Andrew agree they have a lot to be thankful for.

Wendy is recently engaged. She is planning a wedding and the family is buying a new home.

The mother and son say they’re looking forward to the next chapter in life.

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