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Update on Swimmers Injured by Lightning

Lightning strike survivor Casy Douglas, tries to remember what happened next!

July 28, 2005

The following report is rewritten from an article first published by JACOB H. FRIES, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer

Casey Douglas and her fiancé, Darrell Fults were getting out of the warm waters at Clearwater Beach, concerned over the dark storm clouds on the horizon. Then suddenly, she felt paralyzed, lying in waist-deep surf. Lightning struck! Eyewitnesses said that Douglas appeared to be unconscious, but she thought that she was screaming out loud for Fults.

"I just remember, when I went down, I remember looking in the water . . ." Douglas said Monday. "I was helpless."

19 year-old Douglas, one of five beachgoers struck by lightning during a brief but violent storm Saturday, spoke for the first time publicly Monday at Morton Plant Hospital. Fults, 22, remained at the hospital and may be released later this week, said Douglas, who was released Monday.

Douglas and Fults, both of Franklin, Tenn., had been at the beach for nearly an hour Saturday when a storm approached shortly before 5 p.m.

"Let's get out of the water," Douglas recalled Fults saying. "Let's go wait it out in our car."

Fults helped Douglas through the waves as they neared the shore, she said.

Then, there's a break in Douglas' recollection. She doesn't recall being struck by lightning.

According to witnesses and officials, the lightning bolt flickered for about three seconds, injuring five people. The electricity appeared to lift Fults out of the water before dropping him in the surf.

Bystanders performed CPR on the victims while others flagged down a nearby firetruck.

Witnesses have since told Douglas she was unresponsive after the lightning strike and had no pulse. Still, in her mind's eye, she recalls yelling for Fults, desperately hoping to find him.

"I was scared for my fiancé," she said. "All I wanted was my fiancé."

In the ambulance, Douglas could not summon her own name and instead told paramedics she was Darrell Fults and gave his birthdate, she said. Once in the hospital, she slowly began to remember.

Now, she has almost returned to normal, though her heart hurts, apparently from bruising sustained during CPR, Douglas said.

Doctors indicate that Fults should make a full recovery without lingering consequences.

Stephen Haire, Morton Plant's medical director, said a lightning strike can cause a person's heart to beat at an abnormal rhythm, which stops blood flow. It can also affect breathing.

"The brain forgets that it's supposed to breathe," Haire said.

That is what usually kills a victim. But if help arrives within three to five minutes, as it did Saturday, chances are good for recovery, the emergency room doctor said.

Gentry Fox, Fults' stepfather and an assistant fire chief in Tennessee, sat next to Douglas while she addressed reporters. Fox was quick to deliver his appreciation.

"I can't say enough for the bystanders on the beach and Clearwater Fire Rescue. They did an excellent job," Fox said. "It was a very unusual chain of events that occurred, and if only one of the links in the chain failed, it would have been a totally different outcome."

The following in an update as of July 26, on the conditions of the swimmers that survived the lightning strike during Saturday's thunderstorm.

Darrell Fults, 22, was in fair condition Monday at Morton Plant Hospital.

Fults' fiancee, Casey Douglas, 19, was released Monday.

Fults' cousin, Matthew Fults, 21, was released Saturday night.

Susan Darquea was released Sunday.

The condition of a fifth victim, as yet unidentified, was not known.

 

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