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Couple in Boston hit by lightning are recovering

Emergency responders aided the injured couple watching fireworks on Dorchester Heights.

BILL BRETT FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Emergency responders aided the injured couple watching fireworks on Dorchester Heights.

They had climbed up Dorchester Heights, as had hundreds of other July Fourth revelers, to see the fireworks displays illuminating skies over Boston.

Instead, Jerome Hranka and Megan Gale Hranka got a little more than they had bargained for. Lightning struck the couple as they took in the pyrotechnic panorama. It knocked them unconscious and provided an experience they are unlikely to forget.

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“We didn’t know what happened. It was a stunned sensation,” Hranka said Thursday from his hospital room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he and his wife were recovering.

“We were essentially immobilized,” he said. “It took a couple of hours until we could feel our legs.”

The lightning bolt cut through the sky at around 10:45 p.m., author­ities said. It hit moments after a drizzle of rain began falling, but before the torrential downpour that sent the crowd on the Heights running for shelter.

“It sounded like a bomb,” said Julie Sanabria, who was watching the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on television at her home, a block from where the couple was hit.

The victims — both 29 years old, according to police — had been in the middle of the crowd. Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Boston Fire Department, said firefighters responded to a report of a man and a woman struck by lightning in Thomas Park. The couple were conscious when Emergency Medical Services personnel arrived and were taken to Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

It was only the second case since 2010 when someone in ­Boston was reported struck by lightning, said Jennifer B. ­Mehegan, spokeswoman for ­Boston EMS.

Hranka said that he and his wife had come to Boston from Kansas City for a wedding.

He said they both hoped to be out of the hospital soon and still planned to attend the wedding.

“The emergency medical staff and some of the folks around us were a great help to us,” he said. “We’re just ­extremely fortunate.”

On Thursday in the park, there was no sign of the lightning strike, except, possibly, a softball-sized, brown spot in the middle of an otherwise lush, green lawn.

The grass was moist and cool; the spot was warm and dry.

No one could say if that was where the bolt hit, but lightning strikes can cause such spots.

The Hrankas were not the only ones to survive a lightning strike this July Fourth. Fire ­officials in New Hampshire said three people in their 20s were being treated for minor injuries after being struck by lightning while they were standing near a grill at a barbecue in Laconia, the Associated Press reported.

There are about 35 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in the United States each year, said Richard Kithil, founder of the National ­Lightning Safety Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit dedicated to the study of lightning and educating the public about lightning safety.

Between 1982 and 2011 an average of 54 people died each year of lightning strikes in the United States, said John ­Jensenius of the National ­Oceanic and Atmospheric ­Administration.

In 2012, there have been seven such deaths.

Kithil estimates that the death toll is understated by 30 percent, because not all deaths from lightning are reported.

The survival rate for lightning strikes, Kithil said, is “in the upper 90th percentile.”

Each lightning bolt, he said, is unique, “like a snowflake.”

A lightning bolt may carry an electric current between 2,000 and 600,000 amperes, Kithil said. By comparison, the current of an electric welder can range between 200 and 400 amperes.

About 25 percent of survivors of lightning strikes experience after-effects. Short-term memory loss is the most common among them.

Temporary burn marks, known as “Lichtenberg figures,” are broken blood vessels just below the skin’s surface caused by lightning’s excessive heat, Kithil said.

Some survivors suffer psychological effects, such as fear of light, and aches and pains that cannot be diagnosed.

Kithil offered a simple suggestion to avoid these consequences.

“When you hear thunder,” he said, “go inside.”

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Melissa Werthmann contributed to this report. Matt ­
Woolbright can be reached at matt.woolbright@globe.com.
David Filipov can be reached
at dfilipov@globe.com. Follow
him on Twitter @davidfilipov.
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