In the summer of 2020, 15-year-old Jacob Brewer and his family were packing up their beach day early. A storm was rolling into the shores of Siesta Key Beach, and they knew just how dangerous lightning strikes could be.
As they made their way back toward the parking lot, however, the family’s worst nightmares came true. A lightning bolt lashed down from the dark clouds, hitting the young boy directly in the chest. “He wasn’t carrying any metal,” his mother Barbara Brewer told Kennedy News (via NY Post). “He wasn’t the only person on the beach, and the lightning bolt just hit him in the chest.”
Barbara, who had been walking closest to her son, was thrown to the ground by the blast, leaving her confused and disoriented. “At first, I didn’t even know what happened,” she recalled. “It was like an explosion had gone off. I couldn’t figure out why I was on the ground and had ringing in my ears.”
As she regained consciousness, she came to realize the full extent of the horrifying incident. Her daughter was shaken but otherwise unharmed by the lightning strike. Her son Jacob, however, was nearly unrecognizable. “I saw him start foaming at the mouth. His eyes rolled back and he turned purple,” Brewer said. “I knew he needed CPR and that I couldn’t do it myself. I had CPR training but I couldn’t think.”
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Terrified and in shock, Jacob’s mother began screaming and crying for help, alerting three nearby strangers to the grisly scene. The strangers did their best to revive the boy, performing CPR for several minutes. Eventually, however, they had no choice but to leave the beach, the severe weather steadily worsening.
“They carried his lifeless body across the beach all the way to the access point,” his mother said. “And then a sheriff saw Jacob and said ‘drop him’ and he started doing CPR on him as well.”
An ambulance was called, but paramedics could only travel so fast. The minutes ticked by, Jacob Brewer’s mother growing more distressed by the moment. After 15 minutes, the teen still had no pulse, but the ambulance finally arrived. Jacob was then transported to the hospital, where doctors attempted to revive him for another 45 minutes to an hour.
Permanent brain damage begins in just 4 minutes without oxygen – this child hadn’t taken a breath in over an hour. “[Doctors] told us that … even if he does he’s probably going to be brain dead,” Brewer said. “So we thought he was gone.”
Jacob Brewer had deep cuts up both arms and legs to relieve the pressure from the lightning strike. He had severe nerve damage from the raw electricity hitting his spine. He was covered in burns from the white-hot lightning touching his skin. Somehow, however, he survived.
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After two weeks in the ICU of Tampa General Hospital, Jacob Brewer was stable enough for transport. He soon arrived at Cooke Children’s hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, for further treatment. The outlook, however, still wasn’t promising. “We realized that not only could he not use his legs but he couldn’t control his bladder or bowels,” Barbara Brewer said. “He was completely paralyzed.”
But the dedicated mother refused, point blank, to accept this outcome for her son. So she scoured the globe for specialists, eventually landing on Cyberdyne HAL, a “wearable robot” that improves lower limb function by detecting electrical signals from the brain.
“He’s getting stronger using this new technology,” his mother explained. “There’s only one in America, that’s why we had to move to Jacksonville to use it. It’s pretty cutting edge in the neuro-world.”
Barbara Brewer and her husband now split their time between Texas and Florida so that their son can continue to receive this life-changing treatment. But they hope that one day, they can be together again.
“My husband and I travel 1,000 miles to switch off so he can spend time with his daughter and I can help Jacob with his treatment,” his mother said. “We’re still fighting and hoping that one day, things will get back to some kind of normality.”