SANTA CLARA – On the second anniversary of the freak accident that nearly claimed their lives, 19-year-old Alex Lambson and 18-year-old Dane Zdunich are progressing better than anyone could have imagined.
At just after 3 p.m. on Oct. 5, 2010, the friends exited Snow Canyon High School and walked to their favorite spot underneath a pine tree on the school’s north side to wait for a ride home. They had made plans to hang out later, after theater class and homework. The day seemed like any other, and nothing could have prepared them for what happened next, or the impact it would have on them, their families and their community.
Kaleen Talley, Lambson’s mother, remembers the events of that day all too well. She was shopping with her husband at Tai Pan Trading and approaching the checkout counter when she received news that every parent dreads: A frantic phone call saying that her son and his friend had been gravely injured and might not survive.
She rushed to the hospital and watched alongside Zdunich’s panicked mother, Leslie Broderick, as emergency room staff worked to keep the boys alive. Despite a grim initial prognosis, both stabilized enough to be transported via Life Flight to University Medical Center in Las Vegas.
Each family packed hastily and hit the road. As they drove down Highway 91, Broderick saw the clouds part, revealing a double rainbow.
“It gave me hope that (they) were going to be okay,” she said. “I cried and prayed the whole way there.”
Gradually, more details of the horrifying accident began to emerge. Zdunich had been struck first. The bolt entered his head and passed through his entire body, causing damage to his heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys; doctors feared that the latter would fail as a result of the trauma. He was clinically dead for 38 minutes.
Lambson suffered burns on approximately 80 percent of his body, 40 percent of which were third-degree. His basic motor skills were also affected by the strike, leaving him unable to sit upright or move his fingers.
Talley said that according to doctors at UMC, the quick thinking of the Snow Canyon faculty members who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the boys minutes after the strike made the difference between life and death. However, the fact that they were not killed instantly has been described as nothing short of a medical miracle and gained nationwide attention.
The boys remained at UMC for a month, surrounded by family, friends and clergy. But even after returning home, their grueling journey towards recovery had only just begun.
Determined not to remain wheelchair-bound, Lambson underwent hours of physical therapy and eventually regained the ability to walk, run and even drive. He graduated from high school in 2011 and is now attending Dixie State College of Utah but still struggles with chronic nerve pain and limited mobility in his hands, forcing him to seek assistance with simple tasks such as cooking a meal or buttoning a shirt. Despite these challenges, he said that the worst part of having disability is the label, and he is determined to be as independent as possible.
“I have pretty much adapted now,” he said. “(I could have) laid in bed complaining about how much (my) life sucks, but I would still be a cripple if I did that.”
Zdunich had difficulty eating and digesting food and suffered from excruciating pain following the strike, but has since made an astonishing recovery. He has complete physical mobility and recently started attending college full-time. He said that he rarely thinks about that day and is relieved to have a chance at being an ordinary young man rather than “that kid that everybody in town knows about.”
Aside from receiving coverage by media throughout the country, the boys’ ordeal has drawn overwhelming community support.
“When someone comes up to me and says ‘Are you Alex’s mom? How is he doing? We prayed for him,’ it makes me smile and feel loved,” Talley said. “This has been a tough journey, harder than anything I’ve ever experienced, but we are so grateful (to) all who have helped.”
In an effort to educate the public on the importance of thunderstorm safety and to share the boys’ progress, Talley has created a blog titled Alex and Dane: Beating the Odds.
Broderick said that the aftermath of the strike has drawn her family closer together and forever altered their perspective.
“We realized how fast (things) can change and how truly fragile life is,” she said.
And though the memory of that terrifying day will never fully be erased, Zdunich hopes it will affect others in a positive way.
“The message that comes directly from my experience is that life is something to be experienced to its absolute fullest, whatever that means to you,” he said. “If you were to (suffer an accident like mine,) you should be able to say that you’re proud of the life you’ve led thus far, the things you’ve (done) and the people you have met and loved. If you can’t, then you’re doing something wrong.”
Video of an ABC News interview with Lambson and Zdunich dated March 13, 2011.
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