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Friday, November 19, 2010

A Child's Dream Come True

Zakry Pyle’s dream is to someday be a storm chaser like the storm chasers he watches on television. He sometimes pretends that he is piloting his own chase vehicle into the path of the tornado just like Sean Casey and the crew of the TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) attempt to do every week on the Discovery Channel’s Stormchasers program.

While Sean faces seemingly insurmountable challenges in guiding the TIV into the path of a tornado and actually surviving the encounter, Zak faces his own challenges that are potentially more life-threatening. Zak has a condition called Velo-Cardial-Facial Syndrome, a genetic disorder that has a myriad of life-changing symptoms including a cleft palate, heart defects, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, endocrine system problems, and immune system disorders.

Zak exhibits many of the traits associated with VCFS. His speech is difficult to understand due to developmental problems in his pharynx. He is prone to mood swings and socially awkward emotional responses and also has difficulty understanding abstract ideas such as mathematical concepts. Physical problems have been no stranger to Zak as he has spent much of his life in the hospital.

He has been close to death a few times in his sixteen years, the most recent being when he overdosed on his medications. His brother Cody found him on the floor and alerted his parents. To Zak, the solution to his problems was very simple: If the drugs he takes help to control his symptoms, then a much larger dose just might get rid of them altogether. Unfortunately Zak’s ‘more is better’ experiment almost cost him his life. After being flown to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Zak was in a coma for almost three days and had a lengthy recovery.

Cody’s actions undoubtedly helped save Zak’s life, but he was just returning the favor. On New Year’s Eve 2008 Zak alerted his family when he noticed flames coming from the roof of the house while he was riding his bike. “Zak’s a hero” says his father Terry, “he saved us from burning to death.”

Sean Casey learned about Zak and his challenges through mutual friends on Facebook and decided to give Zak a call. Because of his speech problems associated with VCFS, Zak’s mother Teresa had to interpret.

Zak is not a shy person, not even when meeting one of his heroes. He wasted no time in grilling Sean about his experiences on the road chasing tornadoes in the TIV. He asked if he had ever seen a house get destroyed by an F-5, the most powerful tornado classification in the Fujita scale. “We saw a tornado go through a town, but we were three blocks away. All we saw were pieces of houses going up into the tornado.”

After discussing everything from Zach’s aspirations of catching a tornado on his bicycle, eating bugs, and salvaging materials from torn down houses Sean told Zak that he might be bringing the TIV to Tennessee for the debut of the documentary he has been working on the past nine years, Tornado Alley. And if he does, he is going to give Zak a tour of the nine ton 625 horsepower machine designed withstand a direct hit from a tornado. Zak will also receive tickets to the IMAX movie.

It was very apparent that meeting his hero made Zak’s day as he was soon demonstrating the damage that would be done to his house if it were hit by a tornado and showing us the tornado shelters in his house. But perhaps the most important thing is the prospect of meeting Sean and seeing the TIV in person has given Zak something to look forward to.

You can learn more about VCFS at the Velo-Cardial-Facial Syndrome Educational Foundation’s website,

Stormchasers airs each Wednesday night at 9:00 PM Central Time on the Discovery Channel.

A special thanks to Byron Hensley and John Sibley for their help in this story.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I guess you came here looking for something really clever or interesting. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but this is still a work in progress. And I can't guarantee it will even be worth waiting for.

What I hope to have here is some awesome live feeds of tornadoes as the storm season progresses. But the way this year has been, you might have to settle for something else. The only thing I can guarantee right now is uncertainty.