March 14, 2012

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If you live on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and haven’t heard of “the boy who was hit by lightning,” you probably spent last summer in a cave. On July 23rd, while attending a family reunion in Indiana, a boy from Cambridge took a direct lightning strike to his chest and his heart stopped.

In any given year in the USA, the odds of being struck by lightning are literally one in a million, according to the National Weather Service website. Lightning can contain up to 100 million volts of electricity and reach temperatures of up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. All of that energy affects the electrical balance of the heart and causes immediate cardiac arrest. Only about 8% of people who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survive.

But that boy, the one who has a banter-filled, competitive friendship with my son; the one who lights up a room with his grin; the one who spent July 23rd filling his belly with Dr. Pepper and chocolate chip cookies; the one who was hit by lightning is 11-year-old Ryan Summers. And whether it is due to his mother’s quick thinking, divine intervention, karma or the work of modern medicine, Ryan is alive today.

Ryan’s mother, Jamie, was the first to react after an explosive sound caused her to turn and see her youngest child on the ground, not moving. She immediately began to administer CPR with the help of her oldest daughter, Taylor. Taylor told me, “We just kept talking to him, telling him to breathe, to wake up and hoping he could hear us. I was trying to keep it together so I could help Mom; it was so scary because we knew he was dead.” Thus began the longest ten minutes of the Summers' lives, as they performed CPR and prayed for Ryan to breathe.  

“The EMTs had us drive separately to the hospital, so for that twenty-minute ride, I think we all had assumed he was gone and that was, well, it was just incomprehensible,” said Brett, Ryan’s father. Jamie added, “It’s a lot easier for me to understand with my heart, not my head. My heart told me that this was one of those events in life that remind you that you are not the one in the driver’s seat. I had to have faith and believe in the power of prayer.”

For the next three and a half weeks, the Summers family lived at the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. The EMTs had restarted Ryan’s heart in the ambulance, but he had suffered a great deal of damage to his lungs and needed to be intubated and put into a medically-induced coma. This would allow him to breathe easily and rest while his body worked hard to repair itself—not an easy task, even for the body of a strong, determined kid.

During Ryan’s time at Riley, the Summers family never left his side. Brett recalled the early days in the hospital: “We were walking on eggshells, meeting with doctors to talk about what we were facing, staring at monitors and seeing our son hooked up to so many tubes and machines. The whole thing was surreal.”  Jamie added, “I kept thinking, ‘it’s all good; Ryan went from dead to alive and that’s a start.’  I needed to believe that God had a plan for Ryan; there is a reason he was hit and not someone else."

Back home on the Shore, the community outreach was incredible. Ryan, a 6th-grader at the Country School, was already a popular kid—athletic, handsome, funny. Prayer circles formed and a Facebook page was set up so information could be shared and friends could post encouraging words. Fundraisers were planned, the family’s church had a standing-room-only prayer service and businesses, such as Dairy Queen and Ewing’s Contractor Supplies, posted “Get Well, Ryan!” on their signs and webpages.

The children in the community had a particularly strong reaction to Ryan’s accident and set about selling LiveStrong-style bracelets to raise money for Ryan’s care, printing t-shirts in support of Ryan to wear during team sports, and even setting up a lemonade stand to raise funds, manned by my own son and his friend. The matter-of-fact signage “Raising Money for Boy Hit by Lightning” was a heart-tugging marketing coup; the boys raised more than $300 in just a few hours.  

The Country School’s headmaster, Neil Mufson, made the trip to visit the Summers in Indianapolis. Jamie recounted, “I looked out to the hallway and thought, ‘Gosh, I must really be exhausted...that man looks just like Neil!” Leaving his own vacation in Michigan, Neil made the trek to offer his and the school’s support. “I wanted to see Ryan and give him a hug. Because my family had a similar experience when our oldest daughter was suddenly stricken with a very serious illness, I think I know some of what the family was experiencing.”


March 14, 2012

Comments (7)

Comment Feed

amazing story!

Wonderfully written article, Rhonda. Thank you for writing this - I heard about Ryan, but didn't know the details. The support that surrounded this boy is so encouraging - we human beings can do amazing things collectively. I'm going to be thankful for being alive today, too. Ditto.

Jill O'Hanlon more than 2 years ago


Awesome article, Rhonda! Thank you Summers Family, again, for sharing with us all a very difficult time in your lives.

Ann Hynes more than 2 years ago

Team Ryan....

Rhonda, thank you so much for writing such a beautiful piece.... Ryan and the Summers family have certainly been to hell and back. I believe the entire Eastern Shore is stronger from this horrific experience! The power of prayer, love and continued hope, will forever embrase this young man, from all who have either heard the stories or know him personally!!!

Parker Spurry more than 2 years ago


So happy for Ryan and his family. Rhonda, really glad you wrote about this.

Amanda Hesser more than 2 years ago

Rhonda's Story

I have to admit I am under a rock and I probably know which one, because I didn't remember this story. Great story Rhonda. Nice piece.

more than 2 years ago

Miracles Really Do Happen!

What a beautiful write up of Ryan's experience! I am holding back tears just reading this remembering what Jamie and Brett and the family went through. What an amazing and miraculous story! It was humbling to watch the community come together to support the family and pray for Ryan. It was confirmation for all of us that Miracles Really Do Happen, we were witnesses to this particular one!!! God is good!

Katie Tolley more than 2 years ago

Beautifully told

I read the first draft of this a few days ago while on vacation and it has stayed with me ~ these are the stories that really get at the essence of this human experience. Bad things happen. Your world can shatter in an instant. But grace and love pour out of the cracks. Bravo to Rhonda, who let the Summers' own words shape this piece.

Amanda Priestley-Callis more than 2 years ago

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