BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — In April of 1998, a deadly tornado ripped through the Oak Grove area of Jefferson County. 

That storm killed 34 people in Alabama, and 14 of those lives were lost in the community of Oak Grove. One of the victims was 8-year-old Nathan Seals.

“He loved playing baseball, he really did, he loved playing baseball,” Nathan’s father Matthew said.

Seals fondly recalls the day 25 years ago when he coached Nathan’s little league baseball team. He points to a photo taken just days before Nathan lost his life during the April 8, 1998 tornado that hit the Oak Grove area — he remembers it like it was yesterday.

”I looked up and I could see the sky and wind and rain,” Seals said. “Then I could feel the floor buckle and felt us lift up and I just thought then, this is it. We’re gone.”

Seals survived the storm but was left paralyzed from the waist down due to injuries sustained when his home was ripped from its foundation and tossed hundreds of feet.

Seals’ two other children, who were also injured in the storm, are now grown — something he misses watching Nathan do.

”I’ve watched my other children grow up, it’s been 25 years, right? So, all my kids are grown now. I miss that. I’ve missed that part with Nathan…” Seals said.

His personal tragedy has turned into a very personal mission. Seals is a passionate advocate for wearing protective headgear when severe weather strikes.

”Gosh, if we had just had helmets. We didn’t have a storm shelter and didn’t have a basement but maybe if we’d had helmets on it could have been a different result,” Seals said.

And the numbers confirm the link between tornado deaths and head trauma.

In the deadly tornado back on April 11 of 2011, the Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that 11 of the 21 fatalities were due to head or neck injuries.

Dr. Dan Cox is the medical director of the UAB trauma center and likens a tornado to a high-impact car accident.

”So, any additional thing that people can do to help protect their body if they are a victim of a tornado helps minimize the damage that the body takes. So, things like helmets is a very simple step that can be taken to protect the head and brain from severe traumatic injury,” said Cox.

A simple step that Matthew Seals is convinced could be a lifesaver.

”I want to save as many kids as I can, from something that could happen,” said Seals.

Matthew speaks to school groups often about that day. His message is be prepared, don’t be scared and make sure you have your helmet close.