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TPWD News Release — April 19, 2004

Park Staff Helps Save Life After Lightning Strike

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — On Saturday, April 10 a storm had arrived in the area, and Huntsville State Park boathouse supervisor Jessica Rosalez radioed her bosses that she had just seen a man get struck by lightning under a pine tree in a public use area behind the boathouse.

It was 5:05 p.m. and the victim, a 49-year-old man from Houston, had been standing near the base of the tree. Park Manager Oscar Carmona and Assistant Park Manager Dennis Smith immediately responded. Park employee Kevin Wilkinson was at the victim’s side. He reported that the man had a very weak heartbeat and was not responding. Then, at 5:15 p.m. they were unable to detect a heartbeat anymore and they began to administer CPR. Smith was giving rescue breaths and Wilkinson was giving chest compressions. During this time, Carmona was talking and translating for the family into Spanish and he and another employee, Brad Grier, were attempting to console them. Park employee Kerry Roberts assisted them by monitoring for any sign of life from the victim while CPR was being performed.

The man’s heart was stopped for at least eight minutes, according to park staff. EMS arrived at 5:22 p.m. and used a defibrillator. The rain and lightning continued. EMS transported the victim to Huntsville Memorial Hospital at 5:50 p.m.

He went home late last Thursday. He said through an interpreter on Friday that he remembers his family getting off the lake when it started storming and he sent the kids up to the car to shut the windows. That is all he remembers. He is using a walker right now and will start physical therapy next week. He says God-willing, he will go back to his construction job soon. "It is like a miracle," he said.

Wayde Sullivan, EMS director for Walker County, said what the CPR did was sustain the victim until the defibrillator could be used.

"He was clinically dead when we got there. Had it not been for the CPR, I can’t say that he would have responded to the defibrillation the way he did. His heart was in full-blown seizure and was not beating to sustain life. Had that continued, he would have been unable to be resuscitated. But with CPR, you keep the circulation going and the blood flow to the heart."

Carmona said it was a very emotional time. "Everything was happening so fast and you have to keep your calm. I did go home at the end of the day kind of shaken up about the whole thing. But the staff feels good in knowing we had a part in helping save this man’s life."

Smith, who gave the mouth-to-mouth, said everything just came together. "We are a team and we just did what needed to be done. I am just glad we were able to help." Smith encourages everyone to take a CPR training course. "The one time you need it makes it worthwhile."

Carmona offered special thanks to Walter Clarkson, Karrie Jones and Stephanie Argueta who managed traffic at the park during the incident and volunteer Amy Morowski who called 911.