tampabay.com

Two years later, strike of lightning still hurts

When the Brevard County boy was struck, doctors told his dad he wouldn't survive the night.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 9, 2006


GRANT - On a recent summer day, a boy ran toward the garage of his house, holding up an index finger to show that he'd be right back. He sprinted across the lawn, his right leg not quite keeping up with the left and his right arm dangling at his side.

Moments later, he rounded the corner in a golf cart, gripping the steering wheel and grinning. Nearly two years after a thunderstorm turned a family boating trip into a tragedy, it's clear that 12-year-old Bradley Anderson is coming back, despite his doctors' dire predictions.

Bradley, then 10, was struck by lightning on July 18, 2004. The same bolt killed his mother, Stephanie, 41, who apparently saved her son by wrapping her arms around him.

Since then, Bradley has relearned to walk, swallow, eat and write. This past year, he returned to school.

But he still hasn't spoken a word.

All he can say is "Ah." He communicates by gesturing and writing. He receives speech therapy, but it's unclear if he will ever talk again, says his father, Chuck Anderson, 57.

When asked whether he knows what hurt him, Bradley lifts his left hand into the air and thrusts it downward in a jagged motion toward his head.

Each year, about 70 people, or 10 percent of those who are hit, die from lightning strikes across the United States, according to the National Weather Service.

When the storm hit, Chuck Anderson was waist-deep in the Indian River Lagoon near the family's boat.

His wife and Bradley had found shelter on an island where moments earlier they had enjoyed a picnic.

Suddenly there was a burst of light and an earsplitting boom.

Anderson, who had waited out dozens of summer showers on the lagoon with his family, frantically plowed through the brackish water.

What he found was devastating.

A bolt of lightning had torn into his wife's back and through her chest, striking Bradley as she held him.

She died instantly. Bradley, his skull fractured, was unconscious and convulsing. The bolt was so powerful, it peeled bark from the trees and killed lizards and frogs 20 feet away.

At a hospital hours later, doctors told Anderson that his son wouldn't survive the night. His condition was so critical, he missed his mother's funeral Mass.

Though the hospital staff asked to keep Bradley longer, Anderson honored his son's wishes and took him home that October. Gradually, Bradley began to stand and then to take a few steps with assistance.

This past year, when Bradley returned to St. Joseph Catholic School in Palm Bay, he was far behind his classmates academically. But he's improving, and he plans to enter seventh grade in the fall.

Bradley wants to ride on four-wheelers again and shoot his paintball gun. But despite months of physical therapy, he has almost no control over his right arm and hand.

The doctors told Anderson it's unlikely any significant progress would be made after the first two years.

"But they're the ones who also said he would never walk. ... He has overcome a lot of obstacles," Anderson said.