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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Woman still struggles for normalcy after lightning strike

She’s stammering again, taken hostage by a word that doesn’t even matter as people sit around her either completing her sentence or staring into space.

“Monica, you’re doing it again,” Eulia Tullis tells her daughter softly, then, turning to a visitor, explains. “It happens all the time. She never used to be like this.”

Monica Phillipy, a woman in her 40s with eight children of her own, releases the troublesome word as if she’s been talked down from a ledge on which she didn’t realize she’d been standing.

“I am?” Phillipy says. “Thanks for telling me. I want people to tell me. I want people to point out when I am acting differently.”

What she really wants is for the electrical shock that changed her life to be undone. Phillipy was stuck by lightning seven months ago at Spokane Valley’s Plantes Ferry Park, where her son was competing in the River City Soccer Tournament with several hundred other youths. The lightning struck as she questioned coaches and officials about the wisdom of playing through an electrical storm.

Now, she struggles to deal with the wide range of effects of the lightning strike, such as problems with her vision, sensation and speech. And she is again questioning the ability of youth athletic organizations to keep players safe in bad weather. The time to ask the question is now, because this is when registration and practice for spring outdoor sports take place.

“This has affected my whole life, my family’s life,” Phillipy says. “That morning, we left to go to watch my son play a game and a half-hour later, my whole life changed.”

Before their children enroll in an outdoor sports program, parents should be asking organizers if there’s a lightning policy and if there will be enough shelter or transportation to get all the children out of harm’s way, Phillipy said.

Inquiring about the group’s lightning plan may seem over the top, but Richard Utley, a lightning safety advocate, says open fields and recreation areas, excluding golf courses, are the No. 1 reported area for people struck by lightning in the United States.

“People don’t realize how serious this is,” Utley said. “There were 40 football players struck by a lightning storm in Texas last year.”

Utley’s Massachusetts-based organization, www.struckbylightning.org, is working with Metropolitan Insurance on a national slogan about lightning’s danger: “When it roars, go indoors.”

The saying goes nicely with the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s policy of postponing games for half an hour if a thunderstorm is within 30 miles of a sporting event. The Greater Spokane League follows a similar policy, as do city pools and most golf courses, but many volunteer-based, civic sports organizations have no such policy.

Phillipy now realizes she should have taken her son off the field and away from the park when she noticed the storm, but she was looking for someone else to tell her whether it was safe to play instead of following her gut feeling.

Other parents were doing the same thing even as she was driven away in an ambulance, but when they saw no one else was leaving, a herd mentality set in. Most of them went back to their respective games.

There’s been no going back for Phillipy, whose life has become a frustrating struggle even though it’s been simplified.

“I used to do 15 things at once, ‘OK, let’s do ‘em.’ I’m not that way anymore,” Phillipy said. “If I have five things to do in a day, I have to take this one little chunk and work at that little chunk until it’s done.”

A hired hand now does the work for Phillipy’s animal care business, which used to be a one-woman show. Phillipy’s kids have been late for school 15 times this year, because as she starts driving them to school she sometimes can’t see well enough to finish the trip. Speaking for long periods is sometimes an insurmountable challenge.

She walks with a limp and still doesn’t have full feeling in her toes. Her right eye squeezes shut when Phillipy is tired, stressed, or thinking about the bolt, which struck her in the head.

The cold burns her. The heat burns her. She can’t stand the flash of a camera and when the sun is out in full force, Phillipy runs for shade. When she cries, her tears have a chemical burn. She cries often.

“This has affected my whole life,” she says. “On the outside, I look fine, so people don’t see it, but on the inside. … Why risk it?”

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