Message from God? Lightning hits IPod

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1st Lieutenant
Apr 14, 2005
niagara falls
Vancouver man suffered permanent hearing loss after bolt struck
Victim was left with jaw broken in four places, running shoe in shreds, burns all over his body

Jul 11, 2007 05:00 PM
Helen Branswell
Canadian Press

Wearing the device that is said to put "1,000 songs in your pocket" during a thunderstorm may have sent millions of volts surging through the head of an unlucky Vancouver jogger.

The man, who played in a church orchestra and was listening to religious music on an IPod while he ran, was injured when lightning struck a nearby tree, then snaked out to zap him as well.

His eardrums were ruptured, his jaw fractured and he suffered first- and second-degree burns from his chest – where the device was strapped – up into his ear channels, along the trail of the IPod's trademark white earphones. He also had burns down his left leg and on the foot, where the electricity exited his body, blowing his sneaker to smithereens in the process.

The freak accident has all the hallmarks of a biblical smiting, but the man at the centre of the bizarre case doesn't see it that way, according to the lead author of a report on the incident to be published Thursday in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I don't think he put that spin on it," chuckled Dr. Eric Heffernan, a radiologist at Vancouver General Hospital, where the hapless (and unidentified) jogger was treated in the summer of 2005.

Heffernan said the man's experience ought to be a cautionary tale for anyone wearing earphones outdoors during a thunderstorm.

"Using things like this, a mobile phone or an IPod, there isn't actually an increased risk (of incurring a lightning injury)," Heffernan said from Vancouver.

"But we just suggest that if you are unlucky enough to be hit by lightning while listening to anything with earphones you may be more likely to do yourself some damage."

The man in question certainly did. When Heffernan contacted him last week to alert him to the pending publication of the story, the man, now 39, gave Heffernan an update on his status two years later.

He has about 50 per cent hearing loss in both ears and wears two hearing aids. He no longer plays in the church orchestra because of his hearing deficit. "There are probably many notes he can't hear," Heffernan said.

In addition to the perforated tympanic membranes (eardrums), the man suffered dislocation of the tiny bones in the middle ear known as the ossicles, which conduct sound to the cochlea of the inner ear.

Surgery was needed to patch the eardrums with grafts as well as to reset the jaw, which was dislocated from both joints, and to fix the bone, which had been broken in four places. Heffernan said with this type of damage to the jaw it's likely the man will develop arthritis in it, and at an early age.

People who witnessed this close encounter of the electrical kind reported the man was thrown about 2.4 metres by the lightning's impact.

Rather than a direct strike, this may have been what is called a side flash or a side splash – when lightning coursing through an object breaks out and strikes something else nearby as well.

When that something is a person, the current is often conducted over the exterior of the body, because skin conducts electricity poorly. That phenomenon is called a flashover.

"But it's things like sweat and metal in contact with the body like this guy had that just caused some of the current to go through him," Heffernan explained.

(Heffernan, who is from Ireland, didn't actually work at Vancouver General when the man, who at that point couldn't hear a thing, was brought in for treatment. When Heffernan arrived at the hospital last summer to start a two-year radiology fellowship, he heard about the case and convinced two other radiologists – including one who was involved in the man's care – to write it up, arguing it belongs in the medical literature.)

Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, an expert on the effects of lightning on the body, said burns and punctured eardrums are common and displaced ossicles have also been reported in people injured by lightning.

Cooper, an emergency room physician and medical professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said the IPod didn't draw the lightning to the man.

"Metal doesn't attract lightning and there is very little metal in IPods anyway," she said from Chicago.

"But once electricity contacts the IPod, then the metal will conduct the electricity and can cause secondary burns as this gentleman had to his chest underneath where the IPod was and up where the wires went up into his ears and possibly even cause enough muscle contraction that either caused the jaw fracture or perhaps he fell forward onto his jaw."

Neurologist Dr. Ernest Nitka said the man would have suffered harm regardless, but the IPod accounted for his peculiar pattern of injury.

"Once there was a flashover from the tree the shock would find an easy resistance path," Nitka said in an e-mail from Denver, Colo., where he works with the Lightning Data Center at the St. Anthony Hospitals.

"This is where the IPod came in to the story. The particular injuries were made possible, if you will, because of the IPod. Without the IPod, the spectrum of injuries would have been different but there would have been injuries nonetheless."

Cooper said the IPod contributed in another way as well.

"Our recommendations are: When thunder roars, go indoors," she said. "If you're on a cellphone or if you've got an IPod, you're not going to hear the first and best warning that lightning is in the area, which is the thunder."

As for the offending IPod, well, it was "damaged beyond repair. Absolutely burned to a crisp," Heffernan said.

The man has bought another, the doctor reported. But as the old adage goes, once burned, twice shy. He no longer wears an IPod when he goes out for a jog.
Amazing! Well done pbfoot, your story has PRECEDED Australia's National (Sydney) News. The only difference being that it mentioned a young man from Colorado who was zapped by lightning, wearing an Ipod, while mowing the lawn. I said to my wife at the time- I learnt about this on the aviation forum.

Now, can you pick some horses, that will win tomorrow!?
well boyz we had a viscious thunderstorm yesterday and stupid neighbors were out doing just that walking their dogs, jogging and just plain pointing up at the cloud to cloud lightning and cloud to ground. one car was drilled last night right through the hood by a bolt and a couple of cars then from the side direction smashed into it, 50 mph winds reported .......

now to clean up the action. people do stupid things ~

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