Engineering Dignity

Katelyn Toth and her stepbrother were riding a paddleboat on a small lake near Bremen, Indiana, in 2006 when a storm whipped out of nowhere and unleashed a lightning bolt, the lone strike in a 60-mile radius.

While her stepbrother suffered only a slight shock, Katelyn took the full force of the sudden strike. Lightning bolts can be so powerful they vaporize the sap in a tree and cause a steam explosion that blows apart the trunk. Katelyn suffered third-degree burns across her face, neck and torso.

The 12-year-old – who loved softball, played the clarinet, rescued earthworms on the driveway after rainstorms, and once brought 27 frogs home to her basement – was not expected to live. She was airlifted to two different hospitals. She lingered in a coma-like state for months, her brain severely shocked. Doctors at a special burn unit in Kalamazoo, Michigan, told her mother, Julie Noblitt, that Katelyn would never walk or talk again.

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Categories: Research