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CPR spares lightning victims
By BILL VARIAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 15, 2000
INVERNESS -- Gwynn Blair had just parred the 15th hole at the Citrus Hills Golf & Country Club on Tuesday when he saw lightning flash in the distant sky. That was enough for him.
"There was this sound, a bright light, then a burning sensation in my legs," said Blair, who was struck once before by lightning. "I knew what was happening. And I thought, "This is it. Lord, I'm yours.' "
Ironically, Blair and the three others who were hit had done just what experts recommend: Run for cover.
Fortunately, a doctor with emergency training was nearby and acted quickly. Today, all four people injured by Tuesday's lightning strike are still alive, thanks largely to the speedy response by the doctor and two others with medical training.
Three of the injured were out of the hospital Wednesday.
A fourth, Don Crist, 66, owner of Don's Pharmacy, a longtime Crystal River business, remained in serious condition Wednesday evening at Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville..
Crist was in and out of consciousness Wednesday at Shands, said his son, Don Crist Jr.
Ruben, who used to train people in CPR, suggested they press on, or wait out the rain beneath a tree.
"My son told me, "You're not supposed to do that,' " Ruben said Wednesday. He was right, of course. They headed in.
Indeed, Florida is often considered the lightning capital of the United States, a fact easily forgotten during the drought conditions of recent months.
Golf courses, with their vast expanses of open land and scattered trees, are particularly vulnerable spots. The United States Golf Association encourages soggy golfers to seek shelter and avoid open, elevated places, water and solitary trees.
A group of golfers was doing just that as Ruben and his son passed the spot where lightning would strike less than a minute later.
Blair was at ground zero, talking to Richard Clark, a golf cart maintenance worker. He said Clark was kidding him about heading in at the first sign of rain.
Blair, 49, an insurance agent and former state trooper, said he knew better. At age 12, he was zapped by lightning while "watering the hogs."
"I've lived in Florida all my life," said Blair of Brooksville. "So I have a healthy respect for lightning."
Dr. Ruben was looking out the pro shop window when he saw a flash, "and feet going up in the air."
He rushed out to find four people lying on the ground.
The closest was the 40-year-old Clark of Crystal River. He had been working at the course for four months; he'd held a similar job for four years at Plantation Inn and Golf Resort in Crystal River. Ruben checked his pulse. Nothing.
Clark was suffering ventricular fibrillation, typical after lightning strikes, where the heart "is just sort of quivering," the doctor said.
Ruben hit Clark three times in the sternum. His pulse returned. He was later flown to Shands and kept overnight. He was sent home Wednesday, ordered to stay off his feet.
"He's a little groggy, and he's got a pretty severe bump on his head from falling, but he's alright," said his sister-in-law, Karen Fraser, who was watching Clark's three children as his wife, Deborah, stayed with him at the hospital.
Near the bag rack, Ruben quickly checked on Blair. He was dazed but breathing. His friend and golf partner, Jeff Cloud, said Blair had been out for several minutes, but Blair said it felt like only seconds.
Blair was also taken to Shands, where he received stitches for a cut on the head; he was released about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Ruben moved on to Jana McKenzie, 31, a doctor specializing in internal medicine and wife of recently arrived Seven Rivers Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Don McKenna. McKenzie, who is four months pregnant, was thrown several feet by the force of lightning strike.
She, too, had headed to the clubhouse.
McKenzie was in shock but okay. The baby would turn out to be fine as well. McKenna said McKenzie was taken by ambulance to Citrus Memorial Hospital and kept overnight. But not until after she helped Ruben with the most severely injured golfer.
Don Crist had returned to the clubhouse area after little more than a hole of church-league golf. He took the brunt of the lightning strike, Ruben said.
Crist had no pulse. Again, three quick blows to the sternum and a heartbeat.
He went to McKenzie, whom he knew.
"I said, Jana, snap out of it. We need your help," Ruben said. "I kind of yelled at her."
She did. And together they went to Crist, whose pulse had stopped again. McKenzie performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as Ruben gently pumped his chest.
Greg Halnon arrived and started CPR on Crist.
Ruben said that striking the two most seriously injured men was something he knew to do because of his training. It can help re-establish a regular beat.
But he said any person with basic CPR training could have done the rest.
"Anybody who has learned and understands basic life support can do the same thing," he said.
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