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Two months from celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary the lives of Jim and Molly Urfer, their family, friends, and the community of Grinnell was forever changed on May 21, 2013.: Paula Pitman

Paula Pitman
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Paula Pitman, our final hero recognition of the day is someone you may know or have learned of as her unselfish actions represent her remarkable character. Her story is taken from a media story which can be found on the Grinnell Mutual website.

“I remember her eyes, those beautiful brown eyes,” said Molly Urfer, recalling the car accident that ultimately claimed her husband’s life. Unable to move her neck without pain, Urfer sat still while a mysterious woman with a soothing voice held her neck in place until the ambulance arrived. It would be weeks until Urfer met her real life angel.

The auto accident happened late in the afternoon on May 21, 2013. Long-time residents of Grinnell, Iowa, Urfer and her husband, Jim, were headed home from a trip to Des Moines. They had exited Interstate 80 and were turning left into town when their minivan was struck by a vehicle traveling south on Highway 146.

“The impact of the accident rendered me unconscious. When I came to, we were in a ditch. I turned to see how my husband was. That’s when I felt a sharp pain in my neck,” said Urfer. Agitated and in pain, she tried to open the door.

Meanwhile, Grinnell Mutual Claims Director Paula Pitman had wrapped up work at the office, located less than a mile south of the Interstate 80/Highway 146 interchange. She had just started her drive home when she noticed two cars in the ditch. Cars were stopping but no one was getting out to help.

“I could see the mini van had been t-boned on the driver’s side. I just felt like I needed to stop,” said Pitman. “I’m not a nurse or paramedic, but I thought I could at least comfort them until medical personnel arrived.”

As soon as she parked her car, Pitman ran to the vehicles to check on their passengers. The driver of the car was shaken but okay. She got to the Urfer’s minivan and found them alert but in pain.

“I asked them their names, where they hurt, and told them to sit still,” said Pitman. “Molly kept reaching to her neck so I held her neck in place with one hand and held her hand with the other. Somewhere I had learned that if a person complained of neck pain that you need to hold them still. I just kept talking to them, asking questions, and reassuring them that help was coming.”

After the paramedics arrived, the Urfers were taken to Methodist Hospital in Des Moines, where Jim later succumbed to injuries received in the accident. Molly had suffered a break to her second vertebrae during the accident and spent several weeks recovering in the hospital. She still continues physical therapy but is doing well. The Urfers were two months away from celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary at the time of the accident.

“I know if Paula hadn’t come at just that right time, I would have continued to struggle to get out of the van or get to my husband and probably further injured my neck in the process,” said a grateful Urfer. “The trauma nurses at the hospital told me I was very lucky. It was a clean break but had I moved, I could have joined Jim or been paralyzed from my neck down. I know she saved my life, or at least my quality of life. Thank you, Paula. You’re my real life angel.”

“I’m humbled by the attention,” said Pitman. “I can’t imagine not stopping to help. It was just the right thing to do.”

With great honor we recognize Paula Pittman as a Hero of Valor for her willingness to provide aide at an accident scene and her empathy to see, feel and hear that someone’s life depended upon her actions. 

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