Moore 7-Eleven employee EH Pittman climbed on top of his co-worker, a mother and her baby as they hunkered down in the restroom while an EF5 tornado tore the building into twisted metal and piles of bricks.
Megan Futrell, 29, and her 4-month-old son, Case, died, something that is still emotional for Pittman to talk about.
Pittman, 29, was conscious when he was pulled from the rubble by two volunteers. He is paralyzed and remains in Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation, more than two months after the May 20 tornado that killed 24 people, including three people at the 7-Eleven at SW 4 and Telephone Road.
Terri Long, 49, was the third person to die at the 7-Eleven where she took shelter on her way home from work.
His three co-workers lived with injuries and are recovering at their homes.
Stories about them hiding in the cooler are not true, Pittman said. They chose the restroom for shelter because they thought it would be safer and more stable.
“The cooler was made of metal, plastic and Styrofoam,” he said. “Just like an ice chest.”
Pittman, of Norman, remembers being in the restroom with three co-workers, Futrell and her baby, Edith Morales, 52, who also is paralyzed and remains in the hospital, and another man, whose name Pittman does not know.
“We were all crouched down on the floor,” Pittman said. “Megan and her baby were on my right side. We heard the tornado. It was like a freight train, loud.
“I remember the roof coming off. ... The wall came down. I don't remember.”
Rescuers kept asking Pittman how many people were in the store as he lay injured on the concrete with the piles of rubble behind him.
“Before they loaded me up in the ambulance, I kept telling them about Megan and the baby,” Pittman said. “They hadn't found either one of them.
“I felt like I had an elephant on my chest. It was hard to breath.”
Pittman was first taken to a Norman hospital where he stayed until he was moved to Jim Thorpe.
His spinal cord is fractured, his clavicles are broken and his lung collapsed. He had a huge hole that covered almost the entire width of his lower back and two cuts on his head that took 12 staples to close.
“I have a bunch of wounds,” Pittman said pointing to his scared arms. “From my belly button down, I have no feeling.”
Pittman got to work early that day. He had left a doctor's appointment in Oklahoma City at 2:30 p.m. and went straight to work to save on gasoline and prevent hail damage on the car he bought as a birthday present for his wife last year after he returned home from a 13-month deployment in Afghanistan with Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
“I pulled in there was only one place left, pump number 18,” Pittman said. “I went inside, and it was only hailing and all the power was off.”
Pittman said he didn't know the tornado was headed their way. There is a radio in the store, but it was useless without electricity.
Employees didn't have their cellphones because it is a 7-Eleven company policy that cellphones aren't allowed in the store while employees are working, he said.
It wasn't until the weather sirens sounded that they realized it wasn't just a hailstorm beating down on them and they took shelter in the restroom.
Pittman doesn't know how long he will have to remain at Jim Thorpe. He said doctors keep telling him “two more weeks.”
In the meantime, workers comp officials are making final approval to renovate his home to make it wheelchair accessible.
For now, it is long hours in his hospital room and in the first-floor gym learning how to do daily tasks.
“Everyday stuff,” Pittman said. “Normal things you do ... do from a chair.”
Pittman hopes he has had his last surgery.
“It's the last unless there is something else they want to cut,” he said leaving a tiring, 30-minute therapy session.
Pittman's hospital room is decorated with pictures of his children and military buddies, cards and artwork made by his 7-year-old son, Logan, and his 13-year-old daughter, Izzabele. One of his son's drawings is a picture of the 7-Eleven before the tornado, the sun and stars smiling and a sticker next to a stick figure that reads “simply the best.”
His wife, Jean, works at the nearby Moore Medical Center that was destroyed when the tornado barreled through the area. Fortunately, she wasn't at work and was safe from the deadly tornado.
That dreadful day is hard for Pittman to get off his mind.
“Some nights, I have dreams,” Pittman said this week. “Like last night, with the storm, I did not sleep at all.”
If you want to help EH Pittman, you can donate funds toward his recovery at any First American Bank.
Before they loaded me up in the ambulance, I kept telling them about Megan and the baby. They hadn't found either one of them.”
Speaking about tornado victims Megan Futrell and her 4-month-old son, Case