Woman who survived lightning strike near White House speaks out
Amber Escudero-Kontostathis, 28, was the lone survivor of a lightning strike that killed three others. "I don't feel good about being the only survivor," she said, and also described the last thing she can recall doing before the lightning hit.
Amber Escudero-Kontostathis was one of four people taking shelter under a tree when lightning struck, killing the others.
Six lightning bolts within a half of a second struck four people earlier this month in a park right across the street from the White House. Amber Escudero-Kontostathis, a native of Newbury Park, California, was the only one to survive the tragedy that made national headlines. In what doctors have called an "absolute miracle," Escudero-Kontostathis is alive, and, in an interview with ABC News, she shared her story of that frightful day.
"I don't feel good about being the only survivor, that's for sure," a still shaken Escudero-Kontostathis said in the interview. "I'm grateful, but I just don't feel good about being the only one."
Escudero-Kontostathis was waiting in Lafayette Square, a public park just across the street from the White House, for her husband to pick her up. She had just finished up some fundraising work for the International Rescue Committee and was about to celebrate her 28th birthday with her husband. However, before he could get there, a severe thunderstorm rolled in. That's when Escudero-Kontostathis, along with retired couple James and Donna Mueller of Janesville, Wisconsin, and 29-year-old Brooks Lambertson, a banker from Los Angeles, huddled underneath a tree for shelter.
"I always thought, like, a tree would, if it were hit by lightning, would catch on fire and you run from the fire," Escudero-Kontostathis explained. "I always knew you're supposed to go into buildings."
A lightning strike hits a tree in Lafayette Park across from the White House, killing three people and injuring one person below, during an Aug. 4 evening thunderstorm as seen in this framegrab from a Reuters TV video camera mounted on a nearby rooftop in Washington, D.C., U.S. Aug. 4, 2022. (REUTERS/REUTERS TV TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
That's when the lightning hit, around 6:50 p.m., local time.
The lightning bolt stopped Escudero-Kontostathis's heart, and her body was motionless on the ground of Lafayette Square in the seconds following the lightning strike.
Two good Samaritans, who happened to both be ER nurses visiting from Texas, sprang into action, performing CPR alongside Secret Service agents. Escudero-Kontostathis and the two nurses reunited this week at the site of the lightning strike.
"I worked on all three people and she worked on you and a couple of others because we had to move around," Nolan, one of the ER nurses, explained in the ABC News interview.
"I got your first pulse back," the other ER nurse, Jesse, said. "I got it back in place. I remember holding your hand and you're, like, gripping it really tight, and you lose your pulse again."
Then, with the help of Secret Service agents who used defibrillators, Escudero-Kontostathis was revived before being transported to a local hospital.
"If it weren't for all of you guys, I wouldn't be here," Escudero-Kontostathis said while expressing her gratitude to the two Texas ER nurses who provided her with life-saving support. "I think I owe you everything. I'm just so grateful for you guys."
After spending two days in the intensive care unit, Escudero-Kontostathis was well enough to move to the burn unit. Escudero-Kontostathis's brother said that doctors believe the strike entered her side and exited her left arm. Though Escudero-Kontostathis is recovering, she still requires the assistance of a walker and was seen in the TV interview wearing a brace over her left hand and left elbow.
Amber Escudero-Kontostathis (Photo courtesy of the Escudero family)
Escudero-Kontostathis was the lone survivor. James and Donna Mueller, who were celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, and Lambertson, were killed by the strike.
"I was just surprised to learn that I was struck at all. I didn't really fully comprehend at first," said Escudero-Kontostathis through tears. "I don't know why I survived. I just don't think it's fair."
Escudero-Kontostathis recalled that the last thing she remembered doing that day was talking to the Muellers about life in Wisconsin.
"I remember asking how their time was out here," said Escudero-Kontostathis. "I just hope I didn't stop them to talk to them. I hope they weren't there because of me."
Although Escudero-Kontostathis has a long road of recovery ahead of her, she's thankful for the second chance at life.
"I knew I died and came back," said Escudero-Kontostathis. "No matter how tacky or cheesy it sounds, you don't know when your last day might be."
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