ARTICLE

Lightning struck Lisbon woman, twice: How she moved on

The chance of being struck by lightning once in a lifetime is 1 in 12,000

Beth Peterson, of Lisbon, has survived being struck by lightning twice. (Sarah Werkmeister/Inspiring Werk by Sarah)
Beth Peterson, of Lisbon, has survived being struck by lightning twice. (Sarah Werkmeister/Inspiring Werk by Sarah)
/

When the lightning hit the first time, Beth Peterson is sure she died.

An Army specialist stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., she was walking outside on July 20, 1992, as a storm rolled in. She wondered if there would be a tornado. Then, lightning struck her full on.

She felt herself leave her body and, standing on the other side, watched a review of her life play before her. She says after she watched the most poignant moments in her life, God came to her and asked if she wanted to stay or go back to her body.

“He told me there would be pain if I made that choice,” she says. “But I was told, my child, you will help many.”

So, Peterson chose to come back.

Then, almost exactly one year later, on July 19, 1993, she was hit by lightning a second time.

According to the National Weather Service, the chance of being struck by lightning once in a lifetime is 1 in 12,000.

The law of probability tells us that the chance of being struck again doesn't change after someone has been struck once. Just like we learned in high school, just because a penny lands heads up once doesn't change the chance of it landing heads up again.

That being said, there's a one in 144 million chance that any one person will be struck twice in their lifetime.

The second time she was struck, Peterson still was living in Georgia trying to overcome the fear brought on by the first incident.

“My doctor told me, Beth, you're a soldier, go home and watch the storm,” she says.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

So, when the rain rolled in, she stood on the threshold to her house, the door open, barefoot, the rain on her face. When the bolt hit, it threw her backward across her living room.

She survived — 90 percent of all lightning strike victims do — but not without physical and emotional scars.

“Before, I was just damaged physically, but the second time emotionally damaged me,” she says. “It implanted the fear in me.”

In the two decades since then, Peterson met and married her husband, a native Iowan, and moved to Lisbon in 1995.

For years, gray skies would induce panic attacks. She had to stay indoors until the clouds passed.

She has slowly learned to let go of her fear. Still, though, she often retreats to the basement during tornado season.

Her recovery has been physical as well. Last June, her 10th toe was amputated. She still has debilitating headaches that can come without warning.

Yet, there is progress. For years her jaw would not open fully after being broken from the fall the first time she was struck. Last year, she was able to bite into an apple for the first time.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

As her two children learned the ways of the world, she relearned skills she once took for granted.

“I learned to walk again, chew again, talk again,” she says. “And I learned to believe in myself again as we were teaching them.”

Even now, words can be hard to come by, and a lot of her memory from before the strikes is garbled.

“You're the keeper of my memories,” she tells people from her childhood in Hoonah, Alaska.

It helps heal the sting they feel if she doesn't remember them, or doesn't remember the things they once did together in the island near Juneau on the Alaskan panhandle.

In Lisbon, the community she now calls home, friends and neighbors have brought meals after surgeries, checked on her after storms, and offered their acceptance and friendship.

“This community has been so amazing to me. I can't imagine living anywhere else during this recovery time,” she says.

Along with her family and community, her desire to help others with their recoveries is what has kept her going.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I've had to overcome astronomical things in my life,” she says. “What I'm doing to help others makes it bearable.”

That desire inspired her to write her first book, “Life After Lightning: A Journey of Spiritual and Self Discovery.” Published by Mount Vernon-based Diamonstudded Treetoes in 2013, it is a collection of poems, vignettes, and tools for overcoming obstacles that Peterson has gathered on her journey.

Her second book, “Destination Heaven and My Journey Back to Life,” a memoir of her life, will be released at the end of March.

“I care about people surviving the traumatic experiences of their lives. I want to help people redefine their pain, to help them find the tools to not let that define who they are,” she says. “That happened to you, it does not define you, is what I tell people.”

She also travels as an inspirational speaker, sharing her story.

“I am not who I was before. I'm greater than I was before. My faith is greater, and my perseverance is greater,” she says.

“This is a lifelong journey for me.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.