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More than F5 and an EF5 connect two friends

Always there for one another
by Bryan Painter Published: May 20, 2012

Dixie Szymanski and Becky Brown started out as two chatty outfielders in a softball league in Newcastle, visiting when they should have been watching the ball.

They became best friends, and Dixie served as one of Becky's bridesmaids in May 1998.

It was a day almost a year later that strengthened the bond between the two.

Dixie, who lived in Oklahoma City near Moore, survived the F-5 tornado May 3, 1999, but was so seriously injured that she had to undergo 13 surgeries.

What she went through may have saved the lives of Becky's family May 24 last year when an EF5 leveled their story-and-a-half brick home in southeastern Kingfisher County.

Becky, 39, and her husband Chad Brown, 39, said that Dixie's experience is why they had storm shelter, the one 12 people were packed into when the twister hit.

“Without Dixie in my life, we might not be here,” Becky said. “I watched, I heard and I know what she went through. I know how much she struggled.

“Dixie was my blessing.”

Becky told Dixie exactly that, the morning after last year's tornado reduced the Brown's house to a heap of rubble.

“She said the reason they survived is because they had a tornado shelter and that was because she had seen what I went through,” Dixie said. “She went through it with me. I feel like she's gone through two of them now.”

May 3, 1999

After Dixie and John Szymanski married in March 1998, they lived in an apartment while their house was being built in the Country Place addition near SW 138 and Pennsylvania Avenue. Around their first wedding anniversary, the couple moved in. John was off work on May 3, 1999, and spent the day working in the yard. Dixie headed home after work. They fixed dinner and then started watching weather on television.

When the twister got to Newcastle, they realized it was approaching.

“We got in the closet and had the TV as loud as we could, and then all of a sudden the TV went off,” Dixie said. “We had pillows around us and my husband was kind of doing a bear hug on top of me. We felt air at our feet and then I don't remember anything after that.”

Minutes passed before John could find her.

On the other side of the metro, Becky had been on the phone, calling her family around Newcastle. They were fine. And then about 11 p.m., Becky's sister Jennifer Sanders who lived not too far from Dixie called.

“We had to go through Dixie's neighborhood to get home,” she told Becky. “Dixie's neighborhood is demolished, Becky.”

“My neck was broke; my jaw was broke; my nose was broken in like six places,” Dixie said in describing her injuries. “The left side of my face was pretty much crushed, my cheek, my nose, my eye. So it was about a six-month recovery process initially.

“Last October, I hopefully had my last surgery.”

John, who was thrown to the street curb, suffered a broken left ankle and injured right knee. Dixie was tossed into a front yard about three houses down.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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