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More Than A Tail Number: MAMA Team Christens New Helicopter, Named for Late Corey Pittman

By Tim Gardner 

It is said that a group doesn’t necessarily constitute a team. At Mission Health in Asheville, NC there are more than 12,000 who are far more than just a group of employees–they are a team and a family. They work together in various capacities in the common purpose of caring for the residents of the 18-county region they serve – and caring for each other in the process.

Fern Eva-Marie Pittman is shown christening the N135CP MAMA helicopter named after her late husband and Avery County native, Corey Pittman, during ceremonies at the Mission Hospital heliport in Asheville, NC

The meaning of team was further exemplified recently at the Mission Hospital heliport as the members of the Mission MAMA (Mountain Area Medical Airlift) team christened their new helicopter to honor one of their comrades. Members of MAMA past and present came to the helicopter dedication ceremony, while pausing in solemn remembrance of the passing of their fellow team member and Avery County native Corey Shawn Pittman, for whom the new helicopter is named.

For 10 years, Pittman was a flight paramedic with the MAMA team, treating critically injured and ill patients in lifesaving flights to Mission Hospital. Pittman–a teacher, educator, leader, family man, respected team member and member of his community–unexpectedly passed away on May 30, 2016 from a heart attack at only 41 years old.

Pittman also was highly-acclaimed for his work in other emergency services in Avery and Buncombe counties: 28 years as a junior or senior firefighter with the Green Valley Fire Department in Southern Avery County; a 22-year paramedic with the Linville Central Rescue Squad; and ten years as director of critical care education at Asheville-Buncombe Tech in which he even received international acclaim for tutoring paramedics from Canada, England, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

Corey Pittman’s parents, Sherrill (left) and Lana (right) of the Three Mile Community of Avery County, pose with Johnny Grindstaff (middle), Supervisor of Mission Air Medical, in front of the new MAMA Air Ambulance N135CP, named for their son. Sherrill Pittman holds an American flag presented to him and Lana at the helicopter dedication ceremony in honor of Corey.

As the MAMA team gathered for the dedication, along with Pittman’s wife, Fern Eva-Marie Pittman of Spruce Pine, NC, and Corey’s parents, Sherrill and Lana Stafford Pittman of the Three Mile Community of Avery County, those who spoke left not a dry eye in the crowd. Flight nurse Cecil Gregg remembered, “Corey used to say every day, ‘Is there anything I can do for you today?’” recalling that you better be prepared to answer his question sincerely because when he asked it, he meant it. That seems to be the theme for the entire MAMA crew – what can they, and this new helicopter, do for you?

Lana Pittman commented that Corey’s family is ultra-appreciative of him being remembered and honored in such a special and meaningful way: “Our family is more than deeply touched that the new MAMA helicopter is Corey’s namesake. We’re ecstatic about it. He would be so proud as we all are and we sincerely appreciate the efforts of everyone involved to make the helicopter dedication a reality. It’s one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to our family.”

Fern Eva-Marie Pittman, a former nurse at Spruce Pine and Marion, NC hospitals and a former Flight nurse at Wellmont One Air Transport in Bristol, TN/VA, also expressed deep gratitude with her following remarks: “I can hardly put into words the depth of the complete influence Corey had on so many people, which is his greatest legacy.   The naming of the helicopter in his honor exemplifies what he means to people. It reaches the core of my heart and I couldn’t be prouder as a clinician, air flight nurse, his spouse and a child of God. Thanks to everyone who played a part in it.”

A portrait of Avery County native Corey Pittman is shown in front of the new N135CP MAMA Air Ambulance helicopter named in his honor.

Johnny Grindstaff, Supervisor of Mission Air Medical, spoke of the efforts it took to get this new helicopter and to have it done the way they wanted it to ensure the best possible care for the people of Western North Carolina.

“This has been a team effort for the past year in putting this helicopter together. The pilots, the mechanics, the flight nurses, the flight paramedics, the respiratory therapists, our leadership – this is the result of all of that teamwork and dedication,” said Grindstaff.

As the tail numbers #N135CP were unveiled, Grindstaff explained their meaning: “The N indicates she is registered in the USA, the 135 is the type of aircraft and the CP (Corey Pittman) stands for devotion, character and a servant attitude that we try to display every day.”

As the speeches wound down and the ceremony came to a close, the crowd seemed to be left with a feeling that it sure would be awesome to be a part of such a team–to be a member of this MAMA family.

N135CP is more than a tail number: it’s what MAMA is for Mission Health and Western North Carolina and aptly exemplifies the legacy Corey Shawn Pittman left.