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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.”