Jeff Martin says he doesn’t remember much about his brush with lightning or the resulting four-day hospital stay.
All the 15-year-old has are the groggy memories of sirens, lashing out at paramedics, being strapped to a hospital bed because of muscle spasms and feeling a tube in his throat.
“I kinda want to apologize to the paramedics for hitting them,” Martin said.
But Palm Beach County’s most recent lightning strike survivor also has the souvenirs — a baseball cap with a fist-sized hole slashed through it, burn marks on his neck where necklaces hung and constant pain in his neck and back that makes it difficult to sleep.
The last memory he has before being struck is relaxing in the shallow waters of the Jupiter Inlet and noticing a storm rolling in from the east.
“I remember seeing lightning and thinking we should get going,” Martin said.
Twenty minutes later, the boy was lying lifeless in a nearby wooded area.
His skin was purple. He wasn’t breathing. He had no pulse.
A lightning bolt had ripped through his cap and struck him in the back of the head. The lightning also had struck his friend Tom Carroll, 16, of Jupiter.
The two teenagers were walking with friends back to their vehicles near the closed bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on July 24 when they were hit, according to a Jupiter police report. After Carroll blacked out for a few seconds, he awoke and performed CPR on Martin until paramedics arrived.
While Carroll suffered only minor injuries and was released from the hospital the next morning, Martin was put on a respirator for eight hours and remained in the hospital for four days.
During Martin’s stay at the hospital, doctors had to remove scorched pieces of his seashell necklace that had exploded and were lodged in the skin along his neck and back.
Martin also was burned on the areas of his body that touched metal — the silver chain around his neck, the button on the peak of his baseball cap and the drawstring loops on the front of his board shorts.
Doctors found no permanent damage after conducting many different tests on the boy, said Martin’s father, Jeff Martin Sr. Doctors warned, however, that health problems, including seizures, chronic pain and migraines, could develop, he said.
The teenager will visit a primary care physician today as well as a trauma clinic. Two other doctor’s appointments already are set for later this month.
“We have a whole different outlook on lightning now,” said his father, who called the boy “a walking miracle.”
More people are killed by lightning in Florida than in any other state. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 85 people died in Florida from 1995 to 2004, more than twice the number in second-place Texas.
This year, two people have died and 16 have been injured by lightning in Florida.
Martin and Carroll could have been victims of a “side splash,” which occurs when lightning hits an object, such as a tree, and then “jumps” from that object to nearby objects, said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Cooper, an expert on the health effects of lightning, said many symptoms of a strike aren’t apparent until the victim returns to a normal routine and may begin to experience nagging pains or problems with thought processing.
The teenager said he doesn’t brood on the possibility of future problems, but conceded the incident has changed him in many ways that aren’t physical. He credits Carroll with saving his life and said that he’s “like one of the family” now.
“We were always good friends, but he’s like a brother now,” Martin said.
Martin also said he gets a “weird feeling” now when it rains, but it isn’t going to stop him from spending time outdoors, where he likes to fish, swim and play paintball.
And although Martin’s brush with death didn’t produce any “out of body” or “light at the end of a tunnel” experiences, he has had the same dream over and over again since he left the hospital.
He said he’ll be walking alone on an empty road in the middle of the night. There are no trees and no houses anywhere in sight. In some of the dreams, he trips and falls to the ground, but he always gets back up and continues the journey, he said.
“I don’t see anything but the road, and I just keep walking,” he said. Copyright © 2005, The Palm Beach Post