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Teens hit by lightning likely to make full recovery

Published October 7, 2010 4:34 pm

Las Vegas • Doctors plan to take both out of sedation to assess their injuries.
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Las Vegas • This afternoon holds the promise of answers about the extent of any long-term damage done to two St. George high school students who were struck by lightning Tuesday.

Anxious parents, siblings, relatives and friends have paced the hallways of University Medical Center while Alex Lambson, 17, and Christopher Dane Zdunich, 16, who goes by his middle name, have been under heavy sedation. They remain in critical condition.

Doctors have said they think a full recovery is likely. They wanted to keep the boys comfortable and their bodies focused on healing in the 48 hours after millions of volts of electricity stopped the hearts of both boys, but it has also prevented them from knowing exactly how the teens will recover.

The fog of sedation and the chill of artificial cooling that has kept their bodies about 6 degrees below normal should be lifted by about 3 p.m. today.

"All the tests have been coming back positive," said Leslie Broderick, Zdunich's mother.

His stepfather, Tim Broderick, said he has seen many signs of improvement such as sustained eye contact and Zdunich holding up two fingers when asked. It's not the usual brilliant performance from a boy who reads physics books for fun, but such small gestures have brought optimism to his family.

"It felt really good to see those things," Tim Broderick said. "The doctors have to be vague because they can't make a promise to a concerned parent and then break it, but still, seeing that improvement gives me more hope each time."

Zdunich has a first-degree burn on his head, where the lightning struck him, and second- and third-degree burns on the bottoms of his feet, where it exited.

Doctors are cooling his body to 93 degrees to prevent brain swelling and to slow his metabolism, Broderick said. He has also been on a ventilator as a precaution.

His family is eager to get a better prognosis once those efforts come to an end.

"When you have a piece of you lying in a bed and that special package is just there and there's nothing you can do, and you're waiting for someone else to come in and fix them, it's frustrating for a parent," Tim Broderick said.

But there also have been moments of lightheartedness.

Zdunich's parents and his twin sister, Kendle, have been joking about how upset he'll be when he sees that half his collar-length hair has been burned off.

"He won't be angry he was hit by lightning. He won't be angry they had to cut off his clothes and everyone at school saw him naked. No, he'll be mad because he's got a hell of a part right now," Tim Broderick said with a laugh.

Doctors believe the lightning hit Zdunich and then jumped to Lambson. They were about five yards from Snow Canyon High School, surrounded by dozens of other students, when they were struck.

Lambson has burns on his face "like a bad sunburn," said his mother, Kaleen Talley, and second- and third-degree burns on his torso, legs and backside. Last night, he made eye contact with his mother, but he has been too heavily sedated for much else, she said.

The lightning appeared to travel down his front but was redirected to the back when it hit his belt. In the "fraction of a nanosecond" it took for the lightning to strike and dissipate, it stopped Lambson's heart, said Meena Vorha, chief of pediatrics at UMC.

Police said both boys' hearts stopped. School administrators took the boys inside and immediately began CPR. Ambulances arrived seven minutes later, said Alex's father, Arden Lambson.

"The school did a really good job. Those first few minutes are crucial. If the blood doesn't start circulating for just a few minutes, you can get a significant brain injury," Vorha said.

She says she sees no reason why Lambson won't be able to return to running cross country and lifting weights. Skin grafts will likely be needed, Vorha said, which may take weeks or months.

The return of both boys to their homes and schools is all the St. George community wants.

Taylor Bolding, who was on the debate team with both boys and is a good friend, spent Wednesday placing donation jars at local businesses in St. George. He also started accounts at Zions Bank for donations to the boys.

"They are both very competitive spirits," she said. "Both are hardheaded. They like to be the best at what they do and prove you wrong whenever they can."

Lambson's younger siblings stayed in St. George, and neighbors have "really gone beyond the call of neighborly duty" to take them in while their parents are away, Arden Lambson said.

Leslie Broderick says the community support helps, and "we know that the prayers are working."

Her husband agrees.

"You can just feel this power when you're next to Dane because of all the thoughts and prayers of family, friends and strangers," Tim Broderick said. "It's really awesome to see a community come together like this."







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