Out of The Ashes: A Hospital Still Strong After Fire Decades Ago

A fire sixty three years ago changed the face of one city. St. Anthony's memorial hospital burned and 77 people died.
It's a part of our town Effingham's history that will never be forgotten.
This was such a major fire it made news across the country. The impact can be felt through the town, and in those who are still here to tell their story.
"It changed our lives. It changed our lives" says Anita Sidner.
There were some brave people in the st. Anthony's maternity ward that night, and she was one of them.
"I was having contractions and so my husband brought me to the hospital, And during the night something woke me up. I think an angel tapped me on the shoulder," says Sidner.
She woke up to smoke and flames that filled the entire building. However, something led her down the hall to make a life changing choice.
"I went to a room with two other ladies in there. We decided we couldn't wait so we jumped," says Sidner.
Out of a window in this building with flames surrounding her. Sidner landed several floors down and was knocked unconscious. 77 people died that night and although Sidner lived, she lost.
"Personally I lost a son. and I often wonder I missed him growing up. It was hard for me to ride in an elevator. For years, if we went someplace i wouldn't go above the first floor," says Anita Sidner.
It took decades for Sidner to come back to Saint Anthony's, but the halls she walks today are much different from those 63 years ago.
The hospital was rebuilt in 1954. since then its gone through 5 major renovations much of it in memory of a nurse whose picture hangs in the maternity ward.
She was there that night and never left.
Fern Riley was a nurse in the maternity ward and during the fire she decided to stay and protect the babies there, sacrificing her own life. Fireman found her charred body still huddled over to protect them.
"She went to save her babies and passed away in the fire. Heroic is the only thing you can say she loved her babies as she called them," says George Mette.
It's a story George Mette has heard many times in the last six decades.
He moved into town just weeks after the fire and says he's seen Effingham grow and change a lot.
"I've often wondered if we had not had the fire, would we have this building here," says Mette.
One that's gone from 100 to 900 employees that care for patients using state of the art medical equipment.
All parts of a memorial hospital that remembers the past to keep moving forward.
"Some may refuse to talk about it, but we look at it as, out of the ashes rose the hospital that you are in right now," says Dave Storm, a top administrator at the hospital.
"There's always something good that comes out of something bad. And there's been a lot of good come out of this. I grew closer to God, and I think we all did. It brought the community together and I'm at peace," says Sidner.
Another important part of Saint Anthony's hospital, it changed fire codes all across the country.
A national hospital survey investigated every hospital of 50 or more in 48 states.
That survey showed 90 percent of hospitals in the country were unsafe.
And from there changes were made across the country.

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