EH Pittman used to sneak into his home when he got home from work, while his wife, Jean, was making dinner. He’d use his military stealth to creep up behind her and take her by surprise with a hug.
“It’s the smallest things you miss that you don’t have anymore,” Jean Pittman said. “It used to kind of annoy me, but now I miss it.”
These days, it’s tough for EH to sneak up on someone in his wheelchair, which can be bulky and unwieldy.
The Pittman family is getting used to the fact that EH is now paralyzed from the waist down. He was nearly killed May 20, 2013, when the now infamous EF5 tornado ripped through Moore and destroyed almost everything in its path.
For the strength and courage Pittman exhibited that day and during the following four months of surgery and rehabilitation, Pittman is one of three Oklahomans who will be recognized and honored with a Jim Thorpe Courage Award.
Other honorees include Matt Grice, an Oklahoma City police officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury after being rear ended by a driver traveling at 65 mph. Billy Wynne will be honored after the paramedic survived burns over 65 percent of his body as the sole survivor of an EagleMed helicopter crash in Oklahoma City.
The Awards Gala will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
The worst day
A trained soldier with the 45th Infantry Brigade, Pittman, now 30, spent many months fighting in and around Afghanistan and saw some terrible things, he said. But he made it back unscathed, only to be nearly killed working a civilian job.
On May 20, Pittman was working at the 7-Eleven store at SW 4 and Telephone Road in Moore, when the tornado threatened the store. He and a woman with a baby were huddled in the bathroom, almost sure the tornado would miss them.
But when the building started violently shaking, Pittman knew they were about to be hit and instinctively threw himself atop the woman and infant. Seconds later, he was knocked out by crushing blows from flying debris and was trapped beneath heavy rubble.
When he came to a moment later, he saw the tornado above him spinning, and was again hit by flying debris, a heavy enough object to break several vertebrae in his back.
He was the first person rescued at the store.
“They pulled the stuff off of me and pulled me out and nobody was there,” Pittman said, referring to the woman and child he’d tried to shield.
The woman and child had been swept out from under him by the tornado and were found dead.
Recovering mind and body
During his initial recovery in the hospital, then at Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation, Jean Pittman said her husband’s recovery was remarkable. He doesn’t take adversity well, she said. He turns things into jokes.
“His recovery was amazing on its own. When he was in ICU, they couldn’t believe he was doing as well as he was. He had everyone laughing at Jim Thorpe. All his physical therapists. He never was in a foul mood,” she said. She wouldn’t have handled things as well, she admitted.
Now, a year and several months later, Pittman is beginning to recover emotionally and has come a long way in his physical and emotional recovery.
“He has improved a lot,” said Pittman’s 14-year-old daughter, Izzabele. “His attitude has improved. He seems, like, more happier and he actually jokes around about it.”
Though he is in constant pain — he fractured one of his scapula and broke the other. The broken scapula hasn’t healed and he is hoping for surgery to correct it and ease the pain.
Needs and good deeds
It’s been a tough year for Jean Pittman, too. But her newfound terror over harsh weather has been eased by the donation of a storm shelter by FlatSafe Tornado Shelters in Yukon.
A wheelchair was donated by the Red Cross and The Salvation Army. That’s been a blessing, but now EH needs a truck to carry around his heavy wheelchair.
Before the tornado and being paralyzed, EH Pittman rode a motorcycle. The family had a car and EH Pittman had driven it to work on May 20 because of the rain. It was destroyed and replaced by their insurance, but EH Pittman’s only ride now is his wheelchair, which makes traveling in his wife’s car difficult.
They’ve had to deal with worker’s compensation claims, insurance forms, legal questions and an onslaught of bills.
“Every day’s a new challenge, that for sure. But we’re hanging in there. We’re dealing,” Jean Pittman said.
To help the Pittmans, you can donate to a fund set up through First American Bank called the EH Pittman Special Funds account.