June 19th - 25th is National Lightning Awareness week. The state of Colorado ranks 3rd highest in the United States in lightning strike fatalities. Dr. Paul Reckard is a trauma surgeon with UCHealth Memorial hospital, and says the kinds of injuries lightning causes to the human body are unique because the electricity in contained in a lightning strike is so powerful.
"It is much much more powerful than the electricity running through your home, it’s something on the order of 200-thousand amps whereas your average circuits in the home are 15 - 30 amps. That high energy creates a heat wave through the whole body that can disrupt not only the muscles and the soft tissue, but also the electrical activity in the brain and the cardiac system. Seizures and cardiac arrest are two very common results in the human body of a lightning strike. With lightning strike you don't see the kind of external entrance and exit wounds that we see with high voltage tension lines and that sort of stuff because the strike is so quick, it's literally milliseconds so sometimes we will see nothing more than a rash externally just a faint red rash on a person’s body."
If you're with someone who is struck by lightning the very first thing you want to do is call 9-1-1. Then after you get help on the way Dr. Reckard say’s “Check and see if they are breathing, if a person not breathing then start mouth to mouth resuscitation. If their heart has stopped, you want to check for a pulse in the neck or wrists, and if there is no pulse you need to start basic life support with CPR and then get somebody there as quickly as you can to get them to medical care, because there really isn't much you can do in the field."
Indoors is always the best place to be during a thunderstorm but there may be times with our colorado lifestyle and your hiking sometimes finding shelter isn't an option.
In terms of safety tips if you can’t find shelter Dr. Reckard adds, "If you’re trapped in the open with a group or by yourself and you can't get to shelter find a dry low spot. If you’re carrying a backpack or hiking poles, get them away from you at least 100 feet because that stuff will attract lightning if you’re hiking in a group in the mountains, spread out. If someone gets hit then there is somebody else who can call 911 and then do CPR."
Again getting life support started is the key to helping someone survive a lightning strike, but always call 9-1-1 before you begin CPR.