Lightning hits BMS staffer on field trip

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By Mark Manicone

A Buford Middle School employee was struck by lightning Friday during a field trip in the mountains north of Greenville, and she was airlifted to a burn center in Augusta, Ga.
Kristina Heaton, an instructional assistant at the school, was released from the hospital Sunday and returned to work Monday, but went home because of lingering pain.
“When I touched that cord, it just lit me up,” Heaton said Tuesday. “It just threw me up in the air.”
Forty students and staff members were at Camp Greenville YMCA, which is about 40 miles north of Greenville at the state line, climbing on a ropes course about 4 p.m. when Heaton was hit. The group was in Greenville to attend a National Junior Arts Honor Society event.
“I was halfway down the ropes course,” Heaton recalled. “A big boom of thunder hit. The next thing I knew, the bolt hit me and threw me off the course.
“It felt like my left arm was on fire, like someone had taken a matchstick and just held it there,” she said.
BMS Principal Sheri Wells was on the field trip and witnessed the aftermath.
“The kids only saw the blue light, but three adults saw her get hit,” Wells said. “It was only cloudy. It wasn’t like it was raining and thunder was on us.
“She was knocked from the ropes course. She was attached with tons of straps, just hanging there. But she never lost consciousness,” Wells said. “She walked to the central area, and didn’t want to go to the hospital, and I said, ‘Oh no. We got to go to the hospital.’”
Heaton was taken to Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard, N.C., for treatment after the incident. Doctors were worried at the time that she might have internal burns from the lightning bolt passing through her body, Wells said.
She was airlifted to the JMS Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, and arrived there at 3 a.m. Saturday. She stayed there until she was released on Sunday.
Her arm and neck gave her “a good bit of grief,” Wells said, but she was strong enough to get though the pain.
“She’s a very independent young woman and a former police officer, so she’s tough as nails,” Wells said.
Heaton returned to work Monday, but went home because of the pain in her arm. Heaton also did not work Tuesday, and will not work today, so she can stay home and recuperate.
“I’ve basically slept all day, every day. It almost feels like a pulled muscle in my shoulder,” Heaton said. “But my arm is still bruised real bad and burned on the inside.”
Heaton is slowly starting to feel better, and will meet with doctors in a week to go over the rest of her recovery process.
“I’m glad it happened to me, and not the kid ahead of me,” Heaton said.

Follow reporter Mark Manicone on Twitter @mark_manicone or contact him at (803) 283-1152.