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Lightning strikes down boy at camp

The Kadish family from left, Zak, Alexia, Elyse, Ethan and Scott at a Cincinnati Reds game on May 24 this year. - Courtesy Photo
The Kadish family from left, Zak, Alexia, Elyse, Ethan and Scott at a Cincinnati Reds game on May 24 this year.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

There were just a few random clouds in the Indiana sky on June 29, when 12-year-old Ethan Kadish and two other children were struck by a single, apparently random bolt of lightning in a playfield at a summer camp. The electrical shock has left Ethan with a severe brain injury after first responders could not restart his heart for several minutes.

Ethan, now 13, is the son of Alexia and Scott Kadish, who live in Loveland, Ohio, 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati. Scott Kadish grew up on the south end of Mercer Island. He is a member of the Mercer Island High School Class of 1985, and played football and basketball. He graduated from the UW in 1990. Kadish’s parents, Ira and Susan, lived on the Island for more than 40 years, and now live in Seattle.

The three injured campers, two 9-year-olds and Kadish, were attending Goldman Union Camp Institute, near Indianapolis. They were playing frisbee. A few hundred feet away were dozens of other campers playing basketball and swimming. According to reports, the lightning that hit the camp was the only lightning strike reported in the area.

Rabbi David Kaufman said that he has spent two weeks every summer over the past 12 years at the camp and has spent many hours near the spot where the accident occurred.

“There were a few clouds in the sky but not many,” he wrote later. The sun was shining. It was a warm and sunny end of June day.

Ethan Kadish was teaching Lily Hoberman and Noah Auerbach how to play Ultimate Frisbee.

“Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a loud bang,” Kaufman wrote. “A neighbor said it sounded like artillery going off.” Oddly enough, the lightning did not strike the six-story climbing tower that was also nearby, he continued. It did not strike the line of trees, or the basketball courts, where a game was underway.

Nearby camp staff raced to the children and performed CPR. Ethan and Lily suffered cardiac arrest. All three camp defibrillators were used.

Miraculously, just a few days before the lightning struck, some members of the camp staff had finished their recertification for CPR, Kaufman said. At least one of them was playing basketball not much more than a hundred feet away. There were a number of other staff members who also knew CPR who were nearby. All three campers received CPR within a minute and all three of camp’s Automated External Defibrillators or AEDs, were put into use shortly thereafter.

The actions by the staff saved the three.

The two younger children were hospitalized, but were not badly hurt and have now recovered. However, Ethan suffered a traumatic brain injury. Even with the use of CPR and the AED device, it took quite a while to get Ethan’s heart to start beating on its own, his father said. He has not spoken or moved since the accident.

They do not know what he can see or hear or understand.

“The last day I heard him speak was when we said goodbye when we took him to camp,” he said.

Ethan’s father believes that his son was not directly hit by the pulse of electricity. He did not have any burns.

Ethan has been in the  hospital for 16 weeks. He turned 13 there in mid-July. His older brother Zak, 16, and friends performed his bar Mitzvah at the hospital while Ethan was nearby.

Ethan also has a younger sister Elyse who is 10.

He requires 24-hours-a-day care and is undergoing extensive physical, speech, occupational and physical therapy to begin his recovery. The family with the help of a team of volunteers, is helping to renovate the family home in time for the boy to come home on Nov. 6.

Ethan loves baseball and really all sports, his father explained. He plays soccer, skis and of course, has an  Xbox. He has become involved in theater. His father noted that Ethan  likes to mentor others — and likely that is what he was doing with the children with him on the playfield when the accident happened.

The family faces extreme medical bills in the years ahead, bills that have and will continue to dramatically exceed the cap of available insurance coverage. The family also faces the cost of modifying their home to prepare for Ethan’s arrival back home.

“The hospital has not shown us a bill yet,” Scott Kadish said. “I think they are as focussed as we are on his recovery and want us to be, too.”

Ethan still has a long way to go in his road to recovery. Since the accident, doctors say the eighth-grader has been trapped in a body that’s “barely responsive.”

His parents say, however, that their son is still there. They are sure they have seen some improvement.

His therapies are focused on arm, leg and mouth movements designed to help with establishing new sensory connections within his brain.

“Through this whole experience, Ethan has been there. He has looked like Ethan,’’ Alexia Kadish has said, adding that the progress has been slow, but there has been progress.

Laura Berger is a family friend who helps coordinate the more than 400 volunteer members of Team Ethan, a group formed to help the family. She said volunteers will help as long as needed.

“I’m a nice person, you are a nice person, but honestly there are no nicer people, no nicer of a family than the Kadish family,’’ said Berger, who considers the Kadish kids part of her own family. “They are the truest friends you will ever have.”

Berger said that for years Ethan’s mother coordinated a program called Family on Call at Children’s Hospital to help Jewish families with ill kids who came to town for treatment. Just a few months before Ethan’s accident, she stepped down from the program.

“We’ve always said this will be done on Ethan time,’’ his dad Scott Kadish said. “It is not a race, it is not even a marathon. This is an ultra marathon.

“We are here to support him, the community has been incredible to support him and us,’’ he continued. “But the heavy lifting will really be done by Ethan, no one else; what Ethan does will be on Ethan’s timeline.’’

To help, visit Ethan's Facebook page here, his website here, or consider donating to help his family pay for his medical bills.

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