A teen struck by lightning last Friday died on Saturday after succumbing to his injuries. Eighteen-year-old Joel Gauthier was struck as he rode his bike through Vincent Massey Park.
Gauthier and a female friend had stopped beneath a tree to don raincoats after getting caught up in an active early evening storm when the lightning struck the teen, sending him into immediate cardiac arrest. "A cyclist who was passing through performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him" said the Calgary Herald, "but he remained in the same condition when he arrived at the hospital."
Gauthier never recovered from the strike and died on Saturday.
Lightning is one of the top three environmental-related causes of death. Quirky and unpredictable it can be difficult to treat. Unlike electric shocks where injury estimates can be surmised from voltage and current behavior, lightning strikes are more complex and easily influenced. Something as simple as exposure time for example, can dictate the path that lightning will take through the body.
The US Weather Service estimates that between 1981 and 2010, there was an average of 54 reported lightning fatalities per year across America. According to Struckbylightning.org, 26 people were killed and 245 were injured from lightning strikes in 2011; so far this year, 3 people have died and another 32 have been injured.
Because the human body is comprised 60-70% water, it is the consummate conductor for electricity. When a person receives an electric shock it will continue to surge through the body until the connection with the source is broken, but energy from a lightning strike passes through the body much quicker, meaning that surface burns may be less intense, but internal and neurological damage can be extensive.
Dr. Mary Ann Cooper's 2011 assessment, "Lightning Injuries," confirms this. Cooper explains how a "lightning injury is [more of] a neurologic injury," that can affect all "three parts of the nervous system" including the brain, the autonomic nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
Unlike Gauthier who suffered a cardiac arrest and received emergency treatment, many people struck by lightning said Cooper, don't seek medical help until days afterwards because of the lack of visible burns. Unfortunately she adds, latent neurological damage may be chronic and severe, resulting in traumatic brain injury.
The failure to respect the power of a storm and indeed lightning often stems from misconception. In 2005, National Geographic News revealed how dangerous these surges of electricity can be in their article: "Flash Facts About Lightning."
Contrary to popular belief it said, rubber shoes offer little in the way of protection. Furthermore estimates suggest that Earth as a whole, is struck by an average of more than a hundred lightning bolts every second. And the chances of becoming a lightning victim in the US in any one year? Nat Geo said those figures are 1 in 700,000 – with the odds of being struck in your lifetime, "1 in 3,000." Even if one just hears thunder, the article added, then take shelter because a lightning strike is possible.
According to NASA, even dates, location and gender make a difference. Historically, the 4th of July is one of the deadliest times for lightning strikes in the US; men are struck by lightning four times more often than women and the state of Florida NASA says, has twice as many lightning casualties (deaths and injuries combined) as any other state.
But one piece of sage advice has always remained true said Nat Geo – "Avoid being the highest object anywhere – or taking shelter near or under the highest object, including tall trees."
Sadly, Gauthier and his female friend (also 18), did stop beneath a tree in Vincent Massey Park where it appears they were both struck by lightning. The Toronto Sun said Gauthier's friend was also transported to the hospital complaining of numbness to her arms. Paramedics said they could not be certain whether she had been struck too, but the numbness symptoms are indicative of a lightning strike.
Over the weekend, Gauthier's family shared their heartbreak over the teen's death across social media platforms said The Toronto Sun newspaper. Dianne Gauthier, the teen's aunt said:
For those of you that didn't get the opportunity to be blessed by this angel, he was a young man with a great sense of humour, determination, perseverance, resourceful, helpful and always there for family and friends. It was hard to see and let you go this morning. You will always be thought of and loved by many.