A New Platform for Lightning Safety

Strike victim's sister takes issue to pageant stage


Bob Swanson | | Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Editor's Note: Read the April JEMS article"When Lightning Strikes" to increase your knowledge of treating patients who have been struck by lightning. Click here to read the JEMS.com article"Do Ambulances Belong on Golf Courses?" to learn more about being prepared to respond to these types of calls.

On June 13, 2000, Christina Bryan was winding down her workday at a golf course in Celina, Ohio. After waiting out a thunderstorm in the clubhouse, and as the sun re-emerged, she headed for the driving range to collect golf bag stands -- her final task of the day -- when a lightning bolt struck her and sent the then-17-year-old into cardiac arrest.

When paramedics arrived on the scene, they performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and saved Christina's life. But her brain had been deprived of oxygen for more than 10 minutes, resulting in significant physical disabilities. Nine years later, Christina is in a wheelchair, barely able to move her arms and head, and unable to speak.

Now her younger sister is doing the talking for her.

Ellen Bryan, 20, is competing this month for the title of Miss Ohio in the Miss America pageant system. The junior telecommunications major at Ball State University has chosen lightning-safety awareness as her platform.

She has adopted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's slogan: "When thunder roars, go indoors." According to the National Weather Service, the safest actions are to find an enclosed shelter, either the nearest building or a car.

In any given year, lightning-strike survivors far outnumber lightning-related fatalities. The NOAA says an average of 55 to 60 people are killed by lightning each year in the USA, while hundreds of others suffer permanent neurological disabilities.

In Christina's case, she was in and out of hospitals for the first two years and continues to go to therapy five days a week.

"The greatest and the hardest part is that mentally, (Christina) is OK," Ellen says. "She talks through her eyes. When she looks at you, you know what she's thinking."

NOAA is sponsoring a national Lightning Safety Week beginning Sunday. Tools for parents, teachers and kids are available at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.

According to John Jensenius, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, the 28 lightning fatalities in 2008 -- the lowest annual number on record -- all occurred when victims were engaged in outdoor activities during a thunderstorm. There have been 13 lightning fatalities so far this year, including nine in June alone.

Before tragedy befell the family, the Bryans believed the chances of having a family member struck by lightning were as remote as winning the lottery. Not anymore. Says Ellen: "Christina's case is just one of many, and it is something that could happen to anyone."

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