Man hit by lightning lives to tell the tale
by Wes Mayer
A Newnan man is lucky to be alive after he was struck by lightning over the weekend.
Around 2 p.m. Saturday, Sean O’Connor was at his home on Brittain Way in the Timberidge neighborhood in north Coweta doing some yard work when he heard a loud crash. The next thing he knew, he was lying on the other side of his driveway with blood in his mouth, a painful headache, and he was no longer wearing his boots.
“I didn’t feel the sensation of being shocked or being thrown,” O’Connor said. “All the pain was in my head. The only thing I could compare it to was being hit by a tree.”
O’Connor said he then saw his two leather boots across the driveway where he had been standing only a few seconds before, and one boot was smoking. He then looked up, saw a storm was rolling in, and realized he’d been hit by lightning.
“I had no idea you could be stuck by a storm that was so far off, you didn’t even know it was there,” O’Connor said.
He then called his wife, who was not at home at the time, and she didn’t believe him, according to O’Connor. So he took a video of his yard with the smoldering boot and posted it on Facebook. She immediately rushed home and forced him to go to the hospital.
“That’s just me being stubborn,” he said. “I don’t like hospitals, I avoid them … I’m the kind of guy who gets cut and doesn’t get stitches. I go and find the super glue.”
O’Connor said the nurses in the emergency room just laughed when he told them he’d been struck by lightning, so he showed them photos of the boot. They subsequently hooked him to an electrocardiogram (EKG).
O’Connor said, while in the hospital, he learned heart failure is the number one cause of death for people hit by lightning, and while he was hooked up to the machine overnight, his heart rate dropped to 40 beats per minute, setting the machine’s alarm off – the average heart rate is around 70 beats per minute.
“I could see the monitor and hear the alarm going off, and I felt nothing different,” O’Connor said. “It was alarming how much [my heart rate] dropped, and I didn’t even realize it.”
Doctors also discovered O’Connor had low potassium, and he learned that people who get struck by lightning often experience their muscle fibers getting broken down, which then enter the bloodstream and the kidneys, potentially causing kidney failure. To prevent this, according to O’Connor, the doctors continuously pumped saline fluids into him for 24 hours.
“[At the hospital] everybody just wanted to shake my hand and see the photos,” O’Connor said. “They said they usually don’t get to talk to lightning strike victims, especially one who drove himself to the hospital.”
O’Connor also learned some interesting news from his doctor in the hospital – she told him most people she’s seen who have been struck by lightning and survive are struck again at some point in their life.
Since returning home, and with his story all over the news, O’Connor has contacted a number of people who have posted comments on being struck by lightning. He asked each if they had been struck again, and 90 percent of them said they have been, according to O’Connor.
There is no scientific evidence to support why lightning strike victims are hit more than once, but it seems to be true, O’Connor said.
Doctors told O’Connor the lightning bolt probably struck his right boot, which was a titanium-toed, leather boot. The bolt then entered his body and possibly exited through the tip of his tongue – this explains why he tasted blood and had severe pain in his head when he woke up. O’Connor said he did, in fact, have a spot on the tip of his tongue that looked and felt like a burn.
O’Connor was lucky for a few other reasons. First, after the photos of his “steel-toed” boot appeared online, representatives of Timberland, the boots’ maker, contacted O’Connor and told him the metal at the toe of the boot was made out of a titanium composite, not steel. If it had been steel, O’Connor would likely have molten metal covering his toes, according to Timberland representatives.
O’Connor said he rarely wears shoes while doing yard work, but his wife recently saw a snake, so he decided to wear the laceless boots. The boots not having laces most likely led to O’Connor being thrown out of them and across the driveway. This likely saved his life, doctors told him.
O’Connor was also lucky a fire didn’t spread after the lightning struck – he was in the process of burning leaves in his burn barrel when he was thrown across the yard. The burn barrel was knocked over, too, but fortunately, the burning leaves were extinguished by either the light rain or by just being tossed through the air. When he woke up, his boot was smoking more than the leaves, O’Connor said.
He also wasn’t badly burned by the lightning, but when he woke up, it did feel as if he had a bad sunburn on his left leg, and his leg hair was burned.
Now, O’Connor only suffers from some muscle spasms in his back. His doctors have instructed him to keep drinking fluids, and to follow up with them in a week or two.
O’Connor hopes his story will help raise awareness on the dangers of lightning and on the safety precautions everyone should take to avoid being struck. He said he never intended to make a viral video or have the stories spread so far, but he hopes awareness spreads, too.
Ironically, June 22-28 is the National Weather Service’s Lightning Safety Awareness Week.