Survivor of White House lightning strike tells painful recovery after 950 million volts stopped her heart
The sole survivor of the lightning strike that killed three people near the White House last summer spoke of her long road to recovery after the lightning struck her heart for 13 minutes in August.
Amber Escudero-Kontostathis, 28, ran with three others for cover under a tree in Lafayette Square Park when it began to rain on August 4.
Within half a second, lightning struck that tree, sending about 950 million volts of electricity down its trunk, through the ground, and back into the bodies of four bystanders, the Washington Post reported.
Escudero account statis was the only one to survive. It was her 28th birthday.
However, according to the newspaper, the fundraiser working near the park that day did not escape unscathed.
The lightning seared her nerves and burned huge holes in her body.
It melted her skin where her watch was and where her electronic tablet was pressed against her body.
Her heart stopped twice and she had to relearn how to walk, the Washington Post reported.
Months after the strike, Escudero-Kontostathis is in daily pain and discomfort, and she is struggling emotionally with the guilt and fears of those left behind, she told the outlet.
Brooks Lambertson, a 29-year-old California banker who was meeting with Escudero-Kontostathis in Washington on business, was killed by the flash, as was a Wisconsin couple – Donna Mueller, 75, and James Mueller, 76 – who with him celebrated his 56th wedding anniversary trip to the country’s capital.
Escudero-Kontostathis said she spoke to people who knew each of the victims so she could “take them.” [her.]”
Her memories are what she holds onto when she has days where she screams and sobs in pain.
“Whatever I’m experiencing that day, no matter how much pain I’m in, I’m trying to hold on to the fact that I’m the lucky one,” she told the Washington Post. “The one who feels anything at all.”
Secret Service agents were the first to arrive at the scene of the terrible lightning strike.
According to the publication, a White House doctor and two emergency room nurses, who were on vacation in Washington DC, also stepped in to provide CPR.
The improvised medical team managed to revive Escudero-Kontostathis long enough for her to squeeze the hand of one of the nurses and make eye contact with an agent.
But shortly after, her heart stopped again.
They neither stopped nor gave up the chest compressions, and she regained consciousness 13 minutes after her heart stopped beating.
The nurses later told her they didn’t want to give up because of her determined pressure, the newspaper reported.
“I didn’t survive by a miracle,” said Escudero-Kontostathis. “I survived because good people, complete strangers, ran into danger in the middle of a storm to save me.”
As a result, the 28-year-old had to relearn how to walk and used a walker for several months.
She had to shower for three hours to thoroughly clean her deepest wounds and prevent infection while they healed.
According to the outlet, she has large scars that mark the wounds on her stomach and thigh where her pill burned her body.
She is on a long list of medications and still experiences strange and irritating sensations due to the nerve damage. On a trip to New York, she suffered a panic attack as thunder ripped through the sky.
“I still have no feeling from the bottom of my back to my thigh, so I can’t feel where my legs are going,” she said. “It’s like I’m floating on a box on my tailbone. I can feel pressure being applied to the box but nothing else.”
Escudero-Kontostathis has made progress during physical therapy sessions, but it’s unclear if she’ll ever live a pain-free life.
This doubt used to send her into a spiral of despair, but she said it was no longer in her control.
“It’s not going to stop me from doing what I’m supposed to do,” she told the Washington Post.
Just three weeks after being discharged from the hospital, Escudero-Kontostathis began her dream graduate program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
In January, she began her sophomore semester — without a walker — and didn’t have to answer questions from other students about her condition or the now infamous lightning strike.
“It went so well,” she told the Washington Post after her first class, laughing with relief. “Like I’m normal, just any other student.”