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Thursday, April 05, 2012 - Miraculous Recovery of Boy Struck by Lightning

Trauma physicians and staff see young patient through near-death experience

Cassie Williams Jones
VCU Communications and Public Relations
804 828 7028


In 2009, there were 34 U.S. fatalities from lightning strikes, according to the National Weather Service. Ten-year old Jonathon Colson wasn’t one of them.

Thanks to the rapid care of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and trauma team, Colson is now a healthy, happy 13-year-old living a regular life.

Regular, though, does not describe this young boy’s dramatic experience. Two years ago, Colson was playing a game with his baseball team when he was struck by lightning.

Colson was in full cardiac arrest, pulseless and not breathing. A bystander, who happened to be an emergency nurse, administered CPR until the emergency medical services team arrived. His heart did not resume beating until he was on the way to the VCU Medical Center, where he arrived more than 40 minutes after the strike.

VCU’s trauma and pediatrics teams were ready for Colson once he arrived and immediately began assessing his condition and treating him. His family stayed with him, bedside in the room, as the physicians and nurses worked tirelessly to care for him.

In only minutes, the team had run several scans and X-rays to analyze his heart rate and rhythm and to ensure his lungs were oxygenating properly. The lightning strike left entrance and exit wound injuries, which could affect these vital organs and compromise his survival.

Once stabilized, Colson was taken to the pediatric intensive care unit, where he was placed on a ventilator, and underwent brain cooling protocol treatments. The physicians closely monitored the fluid collecting on his brain, which was causing pressure. A team of neurosurgeons opened his skull to allow the brain to swell, which lessened potential damage and increased his chances of returning to his usual self.

Colson’s temperature became normal after the operation, but he remained unresponsive for days. But after much concern and treatment, he eventually regained consciousness and became responsive. In less than a month of being in the VCU Medical Center, Colson was discharged and began intensive rehabilitation therapies.

“Words cannot express how we feel about the trauma program and staff at VCU,” said Judy Colson, mother of Jonathan. “The doctors and staff did an exceptional job with him, and I’m very thankful they kept trying new things and never gave up on Jonathan.”

In only two years, Colson has made remarkable progress, and has even made appearances at trauma symposiums and events. His family is forever grateful to the teams who saw them through the most frightening event of their lives.

“Even though the doctor's weren't really sure of Jonathan's outcome, they never made me feel as if we were going to lose him. I thank God for the VCU trauma program,” said Jonathan’s mother.
Celebrating the VCU Health System's trauma program’s 30th anniversary, the program hosted  its annual Shining Knight Trauma Gala on Saturday, a fundraising event to recognize care providers and increase awareness of the Central Virginia Trauma System and the VCU Medical Center's trauma and injury and violence prevention programs. Colson’s story was featured.

"By honoring those that participated in the care of one severely injured patient, it exemplifies the work all care providers do - from pre-hospital through acute care in the hospital on to rehabilitation - and demonstrates that it truly takes a team to put an injured person back as a productive member of society," said Ajai Malhotra, M.D., professor of surgery and vice chair of the VCU Division of Trauma.

The event was well-attended and raised more than $60,000 in sponsorships this year. All proceeds support injury and violence prevention programs. Jonathan spoke at the end of the night, thanking the “Shining Knights” who helped him survive his unique incident.

"I know the event that happened to me is just an obstacle that I have to get around," said Jonathan. "I am in gratitude to my fantastic team of doctors, my supporting friends and family, and most of all, God, for letting me prosper through my obstacle."

The VCU Medical Center had more than 3,600 trauma admissions in 2011. Patients are admitted into the trauma center for a variety of reasons, including vehicle crashes, falls, burns and intentional injuries.

The trauma program was re-verified nationally by the American College of Surgeons this past year, and it serves as the headquarters for the Pan American Trauma Society, the lead organization for the advancement of trauma care systems in the Americas.

Almost a year after Jonathan’s incident, VCU Health System and the Children’s Hospital joined to become Children’s Hospital of Richmond, increasing access to enhanced, comprehensive pediatric care to other young patients and their families.

The VCU Health System is one of only two nationally recognized Level I Trauma Centers in the state and is the only one in central Virginia. Virginia recognizes five Level I Trauma Centers in the state, including the VCUHS. The VCU Health System was the first hospital in Virginia to be recognized after the introduction of the state verification process in 1981.

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