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Tornado survivor to be honored for courageous acts, strength in recovery

Each year Integris honors three courageous Oklahomans who have spent time rehabilitating at Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Center. This year, EH Pittman will be honored, along with Matt Grice and Billy Wynne.
By Heather Warlick, Staff Writer Modified: August 18, 2014 at 2:47 pm •  Published: August 19, 2014

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.

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