Conner Benson, who graduated from Park City High School this past spring, was on vacation in Maryland last month along with his girlfriend, Jaimie Martin, a PCHS senior, when something extraordinary—what some might call an "act of God"—happened. Benson was struck by lightning.
It was July 7, "a dark, stormy night" as Benson recalled, and he had just pulled a boat out of the Severn River in Annapolis with a friend, Alex Steele, when the bolt struck. Both men were immediately thrown into some brush and knocked unconscious. When help arrived, they were not breathing and their hearts had stopped.
There were some lucky breaks -- Martin was with Benson and Steele at the time of the strike, but she was not injured and was able to run for help; there were two doctors nearby at the time of the strike that performed CPR on Benson and Steele until help arrived.
Benson was put in an induced coma for several days before regaining consciousness. Since he woke up, he's been working on returning to life after being—literally—dead.
The lightning strike was a trauma that impacted Benson both physically and mentally. Now home in Park City, he is undergoing physical therapy several times a week to work on his balance, coordination, strength and endurance. He is going through speech therapy as well. The scariest part of recovery for Benson, though, was how he was feeling. He found himself suddenly turning angry or sad very easily, before becoming "giggly" the next minute. Benson said that at times it felt like his brain was "turning to dust.
When Benson's parents, John and Lori, who had rushed to Maryland immediately after the accident, brought Conner home, he realized that he had even more supporters and well-wishers than he thought. He came home to a house full of cards and notes from friends and then the phone calls and texts started to pour in.
"That's what helped the most," Benson said. "Really, everyone's positive attitude, it's one of those things where people act differently, but they don't act tragically. They act more upbeat, I'd have to say. More excited."
The encouragement Benson continues to receive from his friends and family has been critical for his mental recovery.
"The hardest thing I had when recovering was my mental confidence in things, so it would make my decision-making terrible," Benson said. "I couldn't make up my mind. I couldn't decide what to eat, so usually I wouldn't eat.
"It's good to always have that positive reinforcement."
Benson said that the different kinds of care he has received have all helped in different ways in helping him regain a sense of normalcy. He raves about the therapists ("amazing") who pushed him to walk and be active when he was in pain and just didn't want to. His favorite therapist is probably the one that told his mother that playing video games can actually be helpful for recovery. He talks fondly of both his "parents' care" and his "friends' care."
Benson doesn't hesitate to claim to have the "best friends, family, loved ones." He talks of how his friends "kidnapped" him recently to take him camping by the Jordanelle. He talks about how appreciative and surprised he was when an old English teacher at PCHS called him to check in -- Benson thought students weren't supposed to have contact with their teachers outside of school. Apparently, Benson is still getting used to being a high school graduate.
And those typical teenage issues are the ones that Benson is trying to get back to dealing with. He was planning on taking a year off to work before college (hopefully at the University of Utah) to save money for an apartment and tuition. The lightning strike, and Benson's ongoing rehabilitation, have made money issues a lot more prevalent and Benson is keenly aware that he needs to get a job as soon as possible. "I'm excited to get better. My main motivation is to get a job, make money."
Some of Benson's loved ones have donated to help with the costs of his ordeal and Jaimie Martin is now leading the charge to raise money to buy Benson a diabetic alert dog. Benson suffers from juvenile diabetes and is prone to seizures, even more so since the lightning strike. Benson thinks a service dog will be crucial, especially when he is off at college and might need aid when alone and undergoing a seizure.
Once he arrives at college, Benson hopes to study computer science. He is also passionate about philosophy and has a new personal philosophy of his own:
"Enjoy life! Enjoy it even more so because you escaped death."