Woman who survived lightning strike says she feels guilty to be alive as others died

Emily Brown

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Woman who survived lightning strike says she feels guilty to be alive as others died

Featured Image Credit: GMA / DC Fire and EMS

The sole survivor of a lightning strike is experiencing survivor's guilt after multiple people died in the incident.

Amber Escudero-Kontostathis had been one of four people to take shelter underneath a tree in Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington, DC when the rain started coming down on 4 August.

At the time she had been canvassing for a nonprofit called Threshold Giving through the International Rescue Committee, which works to help refugees, but in a new interview she admitted she doesn't 'remember much of that day at all'.

Hear Escudero-Kontostathis reflect on the incident below:

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Escudero-Kontostathis was joined under the tree by 76-year-old James Mueller and 75-year-old Donna Mueller, a married couple celebrating their anniversary, and Brooks Lambertson, a 29-year-old man who was in DC for business.

Within half a second, six bolts of lighting struck the group and killed everyone but 28-year-old Escudero-Kontostathis, who had been waiting for her husband to pick her up so they could celebrate her birthday.

Speaking for the first time since the incident took place, Escudero-Kontostathis told Good Morning America the lightning struck her through the ground before travelling through her body. She was left with significant burns, but says she doesn't know why she survived.

The lightning struck a tree near the White House. Credit: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo
The lightning struck a tree near the White House. Credit: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo

She continued: "I don't feel good about being the only survivor, that's for sure. I'm grateful, but I just don't feel good about being the only one."

Escudero-Kontostathis was taken to hospital and placed in intensive care, where she says she received constant care from the burn and ICU nurses for five days.

Reflecting on her time in hospital, Escudero-Kontostathis said: "You would hit the little things saying you were in pain and they'd be like 'we're coming,' and they walk in and their name was always on the board.

"I had more of a personal relationship and memory with the burn centre nurses, but I'm excited to eventually get to meet the ICU nurses in person again now that I'm more conscious of that."

Tributes have been paid to the three people who died in the lightning strike. Credit: Shutterstock
Tributes have been paid to the three people who died in the lightning strike. Credit: Shutterstock

Escudero-Kontostathis now has to use a walker to help her get around, and described one entire side of her body as being 'pretty charred'.

"You wake up and you think that you can just get up and go and brush your teeth or get a cup of coffee yourself and I can't, my whole left side's like pretty charred," she said. "Mentally, [I get] a little frustrated because I want to be working and doing things."

Vito Maggiolo, a DC Fire and EMS spokesperson, has stressed that trees are not safe places to be during thunderstorms, saying: "Anybody that goes to seek shelter under a tree, that's a very dangerous place to be.'

Escudero-Kontostathis said she 'died and came back' after being struck, adding: "You don't know when your last day might be." The victims of the strike were helped by two nurses who happened to be nearby, and secret service agents.  

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677 

Topics: Community, US News, Weather, Health, Mental Health

Emily Brown
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