EVANSTON — A week after being struck by lightning, the Thompson sisters are back at home and recovering well.
The girls’ father, Kyle Thompson, said the girls are all “doing great” now, although there are still some lingering effects from the lightning strike.
In addition to the heroic efforts of others at the lake and medical personnel, one of the things Kyle Thompson stresses is how knowing CPR made the difference between life and death.
“If it wasn’t for that, I would have just sat there and watched my kids die,” he said.
BraiLynn sustained a minor brain injury like a concussion and will need some speech therapy, and both BraiLynn, aged 7, and Peyton, aged 6, have some memory loss and severe burns.
Zoey, the youngest, turned 4 years old just days after the lightning strike. She had the fewest injuries, with first degree burns on her legs and hips.
Kyle Thompson said his family, which had moved to Evanston in February, was out at Lily Lake (about 30 miles from Evanston in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest) on Friday, Aug. 4. Kyle and Janika Thompson were enjoying a day of fishing with their daughters, BraiLynn, Peyton, Zoey, and their 1-year-old son, Vayden.
Kyle Thompson said he had just caught a fish and let it go after taking pictures of his kids, and he was casting out the line again when it started sprinkling. He got his family away from the water into the trees, and within two minutes, there was a downpour and they started packing up.
Then lightning struck.
“I felt energy in the air and just all around me, and I knew it was a close strike, but I didn’t know at the time that it hit my children,” Kyle Thompson said, adding that he heard the strike before he saw it.
However, Janika Thompson, holding Vayden, saw the strike out of the corner of her eye and started screaming. Kyle Thompson then remembers hearing Zoey crying and screaming and saw her trying to crawl away, just 15-20 feet away from Janika Thompson. BraiLynn and Peyton, though, were convulsing on the ground, eyes rolled back in their heads and not breathing. It was later determined that they had both been struck directly by the lightning.
Peyton at first appeared to be in worse shape, Kyle Thompson said; she was smoking out of her head, and her clothes were ripped and split at the seams and even burning in several spots. Both Brailynn’s and Peyton’s boots had also been blown halfway off and were burned.
Kyle Thompson didn’t even hesitate to assess the situation, saying he didn’t care about anything but helping his daughters. He started with four compressions on Peyton before she started breathing, then after he helped her into the recovery position, he went to help BraiLynn. Whether because of his nerves or her condition, he didn’t feel a heartbeat, but he persisted in doing compressions and taking breaths for her.
“I [took] several minutes to get her going before she took her first breath on her own,” he said.
In the meantime, other people at the lake were jumping into action, trying to get cell phone service and help the distraught family. When the two LifeFlight helicopters arrived, Kyle Thompson said, he carried Peyton and another man carried BraiLynn.
The two older girls were flown out to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City while Zoey was taken to Evanston Regional Hospital by ambulance. The older girls were initially said to be in critical condition.
All told, Kyle Thompson said, there were four days in the ICU, a day and a half in neurological ICU, two Life Flight helicopters landing at the scene and an ambulance. He said he is grateful to all the first responders and nurses and doctors who took care of his daughters, as well as to the community for prayers and support.
To help with the medical expenses — Kyle Thompson said he is looking at probably $300,000 in medical bills, and his insurance probably won’t cover a lot of it — two GoFundMe pages have been set up and there is a fund at U.S. Bank for the family.
Although the monetary costs are high, Kyle Thompson is thankful that his daughters are recovering and doing well — and hopes that others will learn about the value of CPR from his experience. He said that everyone, not just parents, should be trained in it and pay attention in case it is needed someday.
“I’m glad that I was trained in CPR,” he said again. “If I wasn’t, I would have just sat there and watched my children die.”