Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner

“What does your boyfriend do when you go out of town? Well, [mine] gets struck by lightning.” – Daphne Cheek

We’ve all heard stories about people getting struck by lightning — usually as some sort of cautionary tale, but how many of us have ever seen the effects of lightning on a human? The Lichtenberg Figures it can leave? Winston Kemp, a 24 year old electrician, has had first-hand experience, and now he also has a unique and possibly permanent bit of body art — a Lichtenberg Figure — to go along with it.

Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner

As Winston tells it …

I went outside to save my pumpkins. (I guess it was May 21.) After that, I was going back inside. I just know it struck in our neighbor’s backyard, and it was bright and loud. I didn’t feel anything. I just came back inside like nothing was wrong. Umm…my arm was sore. But I didn’t … I don’t think I saw any marks until 30, 45 … [it was] maybe an hour before I saw the marks. Didn’t seek medical help. There’s not too much else to it. I just watched it to make sure that it was alright. I don’t know. I just went about my normal life until [Daphne] got back here and started freaking out.

It was probably 4 or 5 in the evening. I didn’t know that it had happened. I don’t know, I wasn’t even sure that it was lightning, but that’s the only thing I figured it was. That’s the only thing I could have come in contact with that would have caused the marks. No, it didn’t hurt when it happened, I didn’t even know it happened. A few hours after it happened it really started to bother me. The next day it was bad. The blisters started forming; they were really big. I walked around the house without a shirt on. I didn’t go to work on Monday. I felt sick to my stomach, I’m not sure if that was an after effect of the lightning, though. The week after it happened it ached and burned and the blisters kept on getting bigger. When [Daphne] got home, [she] lanced the blisters to prevent them from busting while at work or sleeping. [Ed note: Daphne is a pre-med student at Texas A&M]. I was trying to prevent entire pieces of skin ripping off. We were careful and wrapped it after lancing the blisters to prevent causing an infection. As it started to heal, it itched like crazy (like any burn). I used after-tanning lotion that [Daphne] gave me. Even now, almost a month later, I get random pains running down my arm that last for a few minutes; and my shirt irritates it. The skin is still irritated/tender.

The closest I have come to seeing a doctor is talking to my mom (who is the head nurse at Pecos County Hospital). She talked to our family doctor about it. He said that there would be no point seeing a doctor now, 2-3 weeks after it happened. There aren’t any other marks that I can tell. It’s probably only going to scar because I scar easily.

Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner
All photos are thumbnails; click to enlarge, but be aware that these show close-ups of wounds that are a bit oozy.
Those with weak stomachs probably shouldn’t click! Seriously!

Winston’s girlfriend, Daphne Cheek, has been my daughter Sarah’s best friend since they were in first grade. Daphne and I are friends on Facebook; when I saw her posted picture of Winston’s arm, I thought at first that he had a new bit of body art — possibly some kind of scarification or a red tattoo. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Lichtenberg figures on Winston’s arm are typical for those who have been struck by lightning, but from what I’ve read these “lightning flowers” usually only persist for a few hours or a few days; it is odd for one to last as long as his has — now almost a month.

Daphne says:

I don’t know exactly when it happened because [Winston] didn’t tell me about it. I found out because I saw the blisters on his arm a week later when I got back to College Station. He was outside trying to save his pumpkins. He was digging a trench trying to divert the excess water away from his pumpkins. It didn’t work; none of the 15 pumpkins survived. He heard something really loud and saw something bright in our neighbor’s backyard, about 150 feet away. He quickly came inside with his adrenaline pumping. That is probably why he didn’t feel anything at first. Once the adrenaline wore off, his arm started hurting. When he looked at his arm, he didn’t see anything at first. He had this sort of burning sensation in his arm. About an hour later was when the lightning marks started to appear. When I got home, I lanced his blisters because he was starting to mess with them, and I didn’t want him to bust them at work. He isn’t as careful as he should be. He said that his arm felt like he had done an intense workout. It was just incredibly sore and ached. Every now and then he gets intense pain that shoots up and down his arm. He just kinda holds/massages it until it goes away. It never lasts more than a few minutes.

Winston never goes to the doctor for anything. He was broken limbs and been shot and still never saw a doctor. A “small” thing like a lightning strike wasn’t going to change that. It probably didn’t help that he didn’t have a car, and he was home alone. He still has the marks from the burn on his arm. I don’t think that they are going to go away completely; he has low iron. Normally, they should go away. It was only a second degree burn. It doesn’t appear that he was struck directly. Probably just arced through the air until it hit him after hitting the neighbor’s yard.

Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner
These pics were taken about a week after the ones at the top of this article; the Lichtenberg figures are starting to scab up.

After hearing about Winston’s experience and his resulting Lichtenberg Figure, I did a bit of internet searching. It turns out that lightning strikes more people per year than I would have guessed, but it is obviously not so common an occurrence that I’ve ever personally known someone who had been struck.

Gaining a personal Lichtenberg figure is not the only side effect of being struck by lightning; according to NASA Science, the most typical resulting disorders can include:

Lightning deaths (~20%)
-Asystole/Ventricular fibrillation
-Inhibition of brainstem respiratory centers
-Multi-system failure (delayed death)

Cardio-pulmonary injuries
-Arrhythmias – Arterial pressure changes
-Electrocardiographic changes
-Myocardial damages (infarction)
-Cardiac dysfunction
-Pulmonary edema – Respiratory distress syndrome

Neurologic/psychiatric injuries
-Loss of consciousness/coma
-Electroencephalographic abnormalities
-Brain/Cerebellum damages
-Numbness/Weakness in limbs/Partial or complete (but temporary) paralysis
-Neuropathy/Pain syndromes
-Spinal cord injury/Parkinsonism
-Sleep and memory disorders/Concentration
disturbances/Irritability/Depression/Various other disturbances such as headaches, tiring easily, lightning storm phobia, etc.
-Post traumatic Stress Disorder

Burns and Cutaneous marking
-Small, deep entry/exit points (typical)
-Contact, metal chain heating (typical)
-Superficial linear
Lichtenberg figures (arborescent, fern-like markings):pathognomonic(on trunk, arms, shoulders)

Clothing, shoes
-Exploded off, torn off, shredded, singed?

Blunt traumas (explosion)
-Contusion, internal hemorrhage (brain, lungs, liver, intestine?)
-(rarely) Fractures (skull, cervical spinal column, extremities?)

Auditory and ocular injuries
-Tympanic membrane ruptured (typical)
-Transient blindness/Photophobia-Conjunctivitis – Corneal damage
-Retinal abnormalities (macular hole) – optic neuritis

“Lightning injuries are varied and take many different forms. The most dangerous (and possibly fatal) immediate complications are cardiovascular and neurologic. It must be kept in mind that only immediate and effective cardiorespiratory resuscitation (started by rescuers), followed as soon as possible by emergency medical treatment, can save victims who are in cardiopulmonary arrest, or avert the serious consequences of cerebral hypoxia. Some victims remain in a coma despite intensive resuscitation and die of secondary causes including hemorrhages and multiple lesions (encephalic, cardiac, pulmonary, intra-abdominal).”

So far the only lingering effects Winston is aware of are random aches and pains, irritated and tender skin, and of course — seemingly permanent Lichtenberg figures.

Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner
These pics are the most recent; Daphne says that Winston is sunburned, “but you can still see the scars if you look closely.”

Apparently it can take some time before all of the effects are known; hopefully Winston will not have any of the more serious ones.

Winston and Daphne Kemp
Daphne and Winston

Do you have any personal lighting strike stories? Or do you know someone who has been struck? I’m now rather fascinated by the topic, and I’d love to hear more from those who’ve seen this before. So please, do tell …



Update March 9, 2012: In light of all the renewed interest in Winston’s Lichtenberg Figure story (thanks Reddit!), I asked Daphne for an update on how he is doing and what his arm looks like. This is what he had to say:

Almost a year later, people are still fascinated by my encounter with lightning. The scars have almost completely healed. There are faint white lines that mark where there were once gruesome blisters, but they are only visible if you know what you are looking for, if the skin is extremely hot or cold, or if the skin is stretched tight. Maybe once a month, there is still some dull, stabbing pain in the lower half of the original blistering. There have been no other complications that I have noticed, but only time will tell.

The attached pictures were taken March 9, 2012. The first one shows that the scars have gone away. The second one shows some scar lines in the bottom left part.

Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner

click pictures to enlarge

Meet Winston Kemp, Lightning Strike Survivor and Lichtenberg Figure Owner

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30 replies

  1. That is the most badass scarification I’ve seen! And it’s all natural too!

  2. Man I never thought I’d want to get bit by lightning again but that scar looks awesome;)

  3. For sure that looks amazing. Sh*tty way to get it though.

  4. Wow the burn was pretty damn cool, I have to say. It’s like you can see where the energy traveled. 

  5. Tattoo over it, it’s glorious. Glad he’s okay

  6. my god your nose is HUGE.

  7. I lived in Texas for years and it’s no surprise to me that he didn’t seek medical attention. Nobody has any insurance to cover such ‘frivolous’ trips to the doctor. Seriously, in Texas, unless your arm has fallen off or you’re foaming at the mouth, nobody goes to the doctor (unless you’re the Houston oil-rich). They see the endurance as a ‘badge of honour’. I see it as the penalty of a third-world health care system.
    Either way, the scarring is cool. Too bad it won’t stay. :/

  8. Yes I was also struck I was putting our stud horse away. I had a hold of a chain on a steel gate it hit a cotton wood tree in the yard and moved  over to where I was about 30 feet from the tree that was struck. 

  9. Way too cool Winston

  10. Hey there. Thanks for the heads up about Kottke, who it turns out found the link on Neatorama (but had credited i09, who did credit me … Ha!). I like both of those sites very much, and I’ve asked them to link to my original article. Thank you for seeking us out and letting us know how you got here. =)

  11. Hopefully he gets some super-powers, too!

  12. When I got hit by lightning I didn’t believe that it happened. It was at Fort Hood. (My best friend saw it happen) My marks didn’t last long and I thought it was a scrape bruise, until I passed out at work and landed up in ER. The only lasting effect is abnormal T waves… If you have an EKG and it is abnormal, TELL THEM about the lightning or they will subject you to a ton of unneeded testing. :o) Glad you made it,

  13. I was “hit” by lightning. Though not directly. It was raining, very hard. Terrible thunderstorm. I was closing a chain-link gate at work and suddenly felt a shock go through my body. I immediately released the fence and went back and sat in my car for a moment. I was panicked. My adrenaline immediately coursed and my nerves were shot. I was the last one out of the lot that day so I had to close the gate, I took off my work shirt and wrapped it around my hand, figured this would give me some type of insulation if the fence was still hot, I finally got it closed, went back and sat down for a few minutes before I started driving home. I was quite shocked (no pun intended) and didn’t know what to think. Friends told me to go to the hospital to get checked but I had no real pain, just a bit of dizziness and adrenaline. After I got home, I had a headache and my body ached a bit. No scars, no singes, just a story to tell… A quite scary one at that.

  14. You’re qualify to hold Thor’s Hammer now :O
    I’m Jelly

  15. I was struck by lightning in 2005. In Seattle. Unfortunately no medical professional here specializes in keraunopathy. I was left to deal and learn. The first few years are a blur of panic attacks and trying to get my brain to do what I wanted it to do. I was instantly a stranger to myself – not only what I knew, how I learned, how I normally respond – my entire personality changed. I am only now getting help I need to deal with my PTSD and learn to accept the new and very special me.


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