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North Carolina Lightning Strike Survivor Counsels Peers

Paraphrased by:
Steve Waldrop
September 4, 2003

A North Carolina man who survived a lightning strike is counseling other lightning victims on what to expect.

Steve Marshburn was a banker for 21 years, now he is unable to work full time, has trouble remembering and cannot drive a car. So he spends his days in a small home office counseling hundreds of people who also have survived electric shock or lightning.

People from all over the world call to Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International, a support group founded in 1989 by Marshburn and his wife.

"I'll tell them very quickly that I, too, have brain injury, memory problems, cognitive deficits- but I'm here," said Marshburn.

Researchers in Chicago, Maryland and North Carolina draw on a database of symptoms reported by 1,200 Lightning Strike members.

Doctors call to check patient's complaints against those reported by a majority of lightning survivors, including fatigue, seizure, sleep disturbance, memory loss, short attention span and depression.

"The support group has helped to characterize some of the problems survivors have," said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, who directs the Lightning Injury Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "I think they have enough members that physicians can see this is a real injury.

Lightning kills an estimated 100 Americans each year, second only to flash floods among weather-related killers. It also injures 1,000 others.

Max Dearing, 45, of Graham got hit on a Golf Course. He and four coworkers publisher were under a storm shelter when lightning found them July 7, 1995.

Eight years later, Dearing has migraines, muscle spasms and random, hot- poker pains. He can't sleep more than a couple of hours or sit still more than five minutes. He forgets where he was going and what he was saying.

"You'll find there's a lot of folks- after you talk to quite a few you'll find a lot of this, it's going to sound a little bit strange- but you feel like you're constantly buzzing or vibrating," he said.

Dearing listed diagnoses accumulated from a string of doctors: Clinical depression , fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, long and short-term memory disabilities, social anxiety, possible adult attention deficit disorder.

Marshburn's understanding dates from 1969, when lightning entered a bank through a drive-through teller's microphone and struck him down. From that day on, piercing pain kept his shoulders slumped and his back stooped. The lightning broke his back. Now after numerous surgeries he can walk without wearing a back brace or using a cane.

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