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Florida father, son tell story of surviving lightning strike

January 25, 2021 GMT

JUPITER ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — When Matthew Anderson and his father, Mark Johnson, spotted a summer thunderstorm making its way toward them on Florida’s east coast one afternoon last June, they chose to be cautious and pack up their fishing gear. But as they were making their way up the beach to the parking lot on Jupiter Island, the two were struck by lightning.

“I remember walking on the beach and the next thing I know, I’m waking up with a face full of sand,” Anderson told the Palm Beach Post.

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The two told their story months after the incident when they saw a recent Palm Beach Post article about how experts struggled to gather information about lightning strikes last year due to media outlets and emergency officials being focused on other issues in 2020, including the coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest and the presidential election.

Johnson, 64, was likely struck directly by the lightning and because Anderson, 32, was next to him, the charge also jumped to him.

According to a report by John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the National Lightning Safety Council, fishing is the leading leisure activity for deaths related to lightning.

A lifeguard and Jupiter Island Police arrived on the scene as someone on the beach called 911. Authorities performed CPR on Johnson and attempted to use an automated external defibrillator, but they could not detect a heartbeat.

During this time, Anderson was dazed until he and Johnson were loaded onto stretchers beside each other.

Anderson was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center by helicopter. Johnson was taken to Jupiter Medical Center by ambulance and regained his pulse on the way.

Johnson’s wife, Jill, told the newspaper that Johnson was taken to the local facility because he was not expected to survive.

“I was pushing on his chest and telling him he better wake up and yelling at him, saying, ‘Don’t you do this to me,’” Jill said.

Johnson woke four days later with a burn on half his body. He has no feeling on the bottom of his feet and is struggling with his short-term memory. Anderson said he was in pain for four months that is caused by severe nerve damage. He said it still flares up if he is idle.

“I think I’ve tried to go back to normal,” Johnson said. “I still go to the beach, but if it looks like there’s bad weather coming, I’m out of there.”