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Atlanta Teacher Tells of Glacier Park Lightning Rescue
Hikers saved by CPR after lightning strike in Glacier Park
MISSOULA — The lightning-strike victims lay inert on a Glacier National Park trail late last Wednesday afternoon.

"I was a little freaked out," Steven Keith recounted Monday of the scene on St. Mary Falls Trail. "I've never seen a dead body myself, other than in a casket."

But while a woman he knows only as Beth began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Travis Heitman of Kalispell, Keith mustered up recollections of his last CPR brush-up a couple of years ago and went to work on Kensey Leishman, a Missoula nurse, who was unconscious and not breathing.

"I'm one of those individuals (who) if I don't practice something, I forget it," said Keith, a junior high teacher in Atlanta who by Monday was in Arches National Park in Utah on a park-hopping tour with his brother Glen and Glen's 7-year-old daughter. "Who practices CPR? What was amazing was it came right back to me."

Leishman's lips were blue and her eyes were open, Keith said. But as he completed his fourth or fifth cycle of two breaths followed by 20 chest compressions, the 23-year-old woman's respiration resumed.

His relief was short-lived. Beth had spotted a third lightning victim, an 11-year-old boy named Noah, unconscious and lying several feet off the trail.

"My mind was too much on running to the boy and helping him, realizing he wasn't breathing and then the fact that he wasn't coming to as fast as Kensey did," he said.

At one point, he said, he slapped the boy in the face.

"Wake up, wake up," he pleaded.

Finally — after at least half a dozen CPR cycles — Noah began breathing.

"I'm not much of a softie. I appreciate a lot of things in the world, and these trips to the national parks are just incredible," Keith said. "But when Noah came to, I got choked up."

Within minutes, others were on the scene — hikers and park personnel, including a ranger who was reportedly already on the trail looking for a lost hiker and radioed for help. Several, including Beth, were from the medical profession.

It was a little more than half a mile to the trailhead. Glen, an Army major from Colorado, headed for it at a run with his daughter in tow soon after they came upon the grisly scene. They yelled for help as they went. A pediatrician and others already on the trail hurried to the strike victims.

Glen Keith estimates that there were 15 or more people helping the strike victims at one point. Within an hour of the lightning strike, the three had been loaded on gurneys and carried to the trailhead a bit more than a half mile away. A helicopter flew Noah, who is being mentored by Heitman, to Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Heitman and Leishman, both Frenchtown High School graduates of 2008, were transported by ambulance.

All three were released over the weekend, Leishman on Friday night. Jason Leishman said from his home in Huson on Monday his daughter had to make an emergency trip to a Missoula hospital on Saturday with lingering effects of the devastating strike.

She was also able to speak with several of her rescuers, and the family was piecing together the story of that day. Until Monday, however, they couldn't track down the man who breathed and compressed her back to life.

"He's the guy I've been looking for. That really is important," said Jason Leishman, who connected with the Keiths on Monday evening. "It's just very humbling to know that someone was able to provide the needed CPR."

Steven Keith was equally curious to see how Kensey and the others were doing. He emailed the Missoulian seeking Leishman's contact information.

"I would . like to communicate with him to be able (to) stay abreast of the three's progress," Keith said.

The lightning victims reportedly have no memory of the strike and its aftermath. To Keith it's a jumble of impressions.

He and his brother and niece had driven up toward Logan Pass that day. They stopped to hike up Hidden Lakes Trail, then decided to go back down Going-to-the-Sun Road and hike to St. Mary Falls. On the way they halted for a short time at a scenic gorge.

"I've often wondered what may have happened if we didn't go to the gorge. There's a good chance we would have been out of there by the time (the lightning strike) happened," Steven Keith said.

As they went down the trail to the falls, it began to drizzle. When they reached the falls after less than a mile walk, "it started coming down pretty good," Keith said. "We threw on rain jackets and started heading back to the trailhead."

They heard several thunderclaps in the distance.

"Then all of a sudden there was one right there. I didn't see (the lightning strike), except peripherally off to the left. But you could feel it. It, like, shook the ground," he said.

Maybe two or three minutes later, they rounded a corner.

"The first thing we saw were two bodies prone on the ground, right in the middle of the trail," Keith said. "Kensey was closest to me. Travis was about 6 feet from her and there was a woman standing there."

He said he could see the panic in Beth's eyes, and feel it in his own. But resuscitation efforts were underway almost at once.

Once the medics and others arrived, Glen Keith asked his brother to go up to the trailhead to check on his daughter. Glen had left her there with another family when he went to hail help.

"I honestly didn't know what to think" as he made his way up the trail, Steven Keith said. "It just played through my head — the blue around their lips, no bleeding, Kensey's eyes open, administering CPR and tasting the electricity in her saliva."

"I like to think that if it wasn't Beth and me, it would have been somebody else that would have been there to help," he said.

On the other hand, had they not reached the scene when they did, the outcome might have been downright tragic.

When it was all over, Keith sought out Beth among the knots of others in the parking lot. He learned that she was touring national parks just as the Keiths were, only on a motorcycle.

"We just bear-hugged each other," he said. "I'm sure she feels the same about Travis as I feel about Kensey and Noah. Even if we don't ever communicate, there'll always be a connection."
 
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