By Shawn Chitnis
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – An 18-year-old man struck by lightning while camping over the weekend survived and was released from the hospital Monday thanks to the quick action of his girlfriend in the immediate moments after he was hit.
“I first of all think the entire situation is ridiculous,” said Isaiah Cormier, 18. “We never could have expected anything like this could have happened, but I’m very grateful that my girlfriend was there and knew CPR.”
Juliette Moore, 18, and Cormier were spending the weekend in the Ruby Gulch area near Nederland and south of Ward, off the Peak to Peak Highway. The two had noticed lightning in the distance and heard thunder.
They were around trees, but were more concerned about the rain at that moment and headed into the tent to stay dry.
“I had just gone inside the tent and seen a really bright flash of light,” she said. “He wasn’t responding so I rolled him over. It was very clear that something was wrong.”
Moore called for help, started performing CPR after she didn’t feel a pulse, and checked his breathing. She was able to call 911 with only two percent of the battery left on her cell phone. Another camper nearby was able to help get him into their car and drive him to emergency crews waiting for them off the highway. He became alert in the car and started mumbling.
“I never want to drive that fast again on Peak to Peak highway because that was a little terrifying,” she said. “He started asking what happened and we told him you know, ‘You were struck by lightning.'”
Surviving a lightning strike is rare. Cormier was lucky he was hit on the side of his neck and the lightning traveled out his right foot without harming any of his internal organs. He was transported to a hospital in Boulder before then moving to the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. He was cleared of any serious injuries.
“He wouldn’t have survived if she didn’t know CPR,” said Dr. Anne Wagner, medical director for the UCHealth Burn Center. “It’s a super high voltage injury that transfers through the body. It does a lot of its damage under the skin.”
Wagner says only two of her patients have ever survived a lightning strike. She says it’s so rare because most often there is not someone with the victim who can perform CPR or shock their heart back.
Most lightning strikes enter a person through the scalp. Colorado has the third largest number of people hit by lightning in the country, according to Wagner.
“If you can see the lightning, it can strike you,” she said.
If you are near lightning, you should get indoors and try to find a building or structure that is grounded. Do not hover under a tree and avoid metal objects, Wagner advised. Should someone be hit by lightning, she suggests calling for help and finding a defibrillator. Check your own safety first and then open the victim’s airway. If you know how to perform CPR, start if there is no pulse.
Cormier said he was still stiff on Monday, a reaction from his muscles when lightning enters the body. But he and Moore were already encouraging everyone to learn CPR based on their story. She only learned CPR a month ago as a requirement for certification as a coach.
“If I hadn’t had to do that a month ago, I’m not sure how it would have turned out,” she said. “I think everyone should learn now.”
“Absolutely,” Cormier agreed.
Lightning hit the tree next to Cormier while he was wearing headphones around his neck. He believes his earbuds may have helped attract the lightning to his neck.
“I feel really blessed and really grateful for all the people in our lives,” said Moore. “We were having a really awesome trip together before it happened.”
Cormier acknowledges that even though he was the one hit by lightning, he wonders if his girlfriend was affected more by the event.
“Take a little time to be grateful for the people in your life today because they’re wonderful,” said Moore. “Hold them a little closer.”
The two high school graduates will be heading to college together in the fall at Montana State University. More than two years into their relationship, they are so fond of each other. They can’t imagine not getting to continue on this adventure together.
Both are grateful to God and consider this experience a blessing. Moore says when she was trying to save Cormier’s life, she knew they had only just begun their relationship.
“There was kind of a moment when I was giving him CPR. Not yet. I’ve got too much to do with this person,” she said. “I got a lot of stuff I need to do with you so you’re not allowed to leave yet.”
Cormier is not sure how he can ever make it up to his girlfriend, but says he has some ideas about what the future may look like for the two of them.
“I think that she will win every argument from now on,” he said.
“I will never have to wash dishes,” she suggested.
“That’s what I’ve been told,” he agreed. “I’m just very thankful for her, very happy that she is in my life.”