A flash of luck: Landis lifeguard hospitalized by lightning at home recovering

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 10, 2023

LANDIS — Brynnlee Steger was getting ready to start her junior year at Carson High School, but all that changed when lightning struck the Landis pool on Monday, where she lifeguards.

Most will remember the storm for knocking out their power, but Brynnlee will remember it as the time a lightning strike sent her to the hospital. 

Two days removed from the storm, Brynnlee is back recovering at home, but she knows just how close she came to tragedy. The humor of getting out of school was not lost on her, though.

“I did not have everything ready (to go back),” Brynnlee said. “I was supposed to go school shopping when I was in the hospital. I, unfortunately, did not make it to Target.”

So how did this all happen?

With storms on the radar, employees at the Landis Pool, which usually closes at 6 p.m., got visitors to leave at 5 p.m. Brynnlee was working with Mackenzie Chabala, and her mother, Sonya Steger, had arrived to pick her up. Brynnlee was retrieving an umbrella from the pool deck when she heard what she described as the “loudest thunder” of her life. 

The very next moment, a lightning strike impacted Brynnlee.

“The lightning did not hit me while I was holding the metal,” Brynnlee said. “I heard the thunder, I jumped up, and it hit my arm. It shocked me throughout my whole body. It was an excruciating pain. It knocked me down.”

Sonya added that she saw a blue and orange mass of light. 

“(Brynnlee) started screaming, ‘It hit me,'” Sonya said. “She took off running, and then, she fell.”

Over the next several minutes, Brynnlee was hyperventilating and drifting in and out. 

First responders were on the scene minutes after Chabala called 911. While the incident occurred almost instantaneously, Brynnlee’s recollection of the aftermath varied. 

“It went so fast,” Brynnlee said. “After everything happened, it felt slow. The lightning happened fast, but the pain when I was waiting on the EMTs to get there, it felt like a really long time.”

When they did arrive, the EMTs worked to keep Brynnlee awake. 

“They did not want me to fall asleep and go into cardiac arrest,” Brynnlee said. “They were trying to slow down my breathing because my oxygen levels were low.”

Paramedics took her to Carolinas Medical Center – Northeast, where she was monitored for 24 hours. She was released on Tuesday and back home resting on Wednesday. Although she feels much better, she has a long road ahead. 

“I will be in therapy for nerves in my left arm and the strength in there,” Brynnlee said. “They have me on nerve medication. There is still pain.”

Brynnlee’s grandmother said that doctors told the teen her physical therapy could be long-term with that kind of nerve damage. 

The Stegers remain steadfast that God delivered Brynnlee from catastrophe.

“God carried her through the storm,” Sonya said. “If it weren’t for that, she would have died. We could be planning a funeral.”

Brynnlee added, “I would not have been able to make it without God.”

She’s also had support from friends and the Landis community. Several of her fellow lifeguards got her a get-well care package. They had to write “sorry you were hit by lightning” on the inside themselves because they could not find one that said that at the store. 

The Stegers said Landis officials have been tremendously supportive and caring through it all.

“I literally want to pack my bags and move from Kannapolis to Landis,” Sonya said in a Facebook post. “What amazing people you all are!!!! The town manager has been to visit, the Mayor Meredith Bare has messaged, Landis pool manager Kendra Sanders literally has blown my phone up worrying, praying and spreading the message asking others to pray! Ryan Nelms came to the pool in the middle of this storm not only to check on Brynnlee but, me! He took my youngest so that I was able to be here with Brynnlee!”

Brynnlee is determined to return to lifeguarding next year but has a plan for future storms.

“The next time there is a storm, I will hide in the utility closet,” Brynnlee said. “There is no way you will catch me outside during a thunderstorm ever.”

Town Manager Michael Ambrose said on Wednesday that the town would be going to look at its policies surrounding the pool to “make sure something like this doesn’t happen again” and that “if guests are leaving, employees are, too.”

The pool reopened briefly on Tuesday but was closed because the pump was reportedly not working correctly.

“We think it has to do with the storm,” Ambrose said.