Soldier helps save life of man struck by lightning

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Capt. Robert Blume, physician assistant, has been called a "guardian angel" for his heroic actions, June 6, 2019, after saving the life of a man struck by lightning. Blume, along with San Antonio-area first responders, worked together to help 21-year-old Joshua Favor, after he was electrocuted while delivering roofing materials during a break in a thunderstorm. (Army photograph by Jose E. Rodriguez)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas–At the risk of his own personal safety, a Soldier’s heroic actions helped save the life of a man struck by lightning.

Many people say Capt. Robert Blume is a “guardian angel” for his actions. However, the physician assistant, who’s served more than two decades in the Army, says he was “just doing the right thing.”

While driving home after a workday supervising combat medic trainees at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Blume noticed the stormy weather was only getting worse. It was especially dark for 5:30 p.m., he thought. Blume had just talked to his son about how bad the weather was, when he was inadvertently called to action.

Weathering the storm
Bright streaks of lightning cracked through the sky, each one capturing frozen fragments of the scenery ahead. Every bolt was swiftly accompanied with deafening pops of thunder. The lightning and thunder kept raging, as hailstones spilled like marbles onto Blume’s car.

Violent wind gusts and buckets of rain fell with fury all around the neighborhood. Visibility was increasingly difficult for him, but through the upsurge, Blume noticed the unmistakable flashing lights of first responders ahead.

He identified multiple vehicles — patrol cars, an ambulance, and a fire engine — all surrounding a nearby Texas home. Knowing the weather was likely a factor, he pulled into the neighborhood, hoping that whatever happened, he could help.

“I couldn’t drive by without stopping,” Blume said, recalling the moment he arrived on the scene. “I would have went home wondering what happened, and what I could have done.”

Blume, a veteran of six deployments, is no stranger to “bad situations.” However, this time, he wasn’t isolated on a mountain somewhere on the Turkish-Syrian border.

This time, he was home.

“You don’t expect to see this sort of thing happening close to home,” Blume said. “But, there was no time to think about that, I just had to respond.”

Call to action
A deputy from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department was directing traffic as Blume approached. He identified himself to her as an Army physician assistant, and asked how he could help.

“A man was struck by lightning on the roof,” she said, gesturing back to the home.

The 21-year-old man, Joshua Favor, was electrocuted while delivering roofing material during a brief break in the storm.

Without hesitation, Blume sprang into action. He parked his car, said a short prayer, and ran toward a wooden ladder in the backyard, where he climbed to the roof. Up there, he was met by first responders, who already started chest compressions on the injured man.

Blume said he thought about his Army medical training, “If this were a training situation, how could I save him?”

Favor had burn wounds exiting from both legs, and his pupils were pinpointed. As he laid lifeless, Blume felt for a pulse, but there was none. “It didn’t look good,” he thought.

As Favor was motionless on the roof, Blume’s instincts took over. He unintentionally took on a leadership role, worked with paramedics and continued chest compressions. Unable to get the man breathing, Blume needed to open Favor’s airway.

Certified in operating the airway device, Blume instructed a deputy to hold Favor’s head while he properly placed it. Although he secured the device, he was still unable to get him breathing at the time, or even a pulse.

At this point “he was essentially dead,” Blume said.

The next step was to use a defibrillator, but with torrents of rain still violently descending, using an electric device on the roof was too dangerous. Their only option left was to take Favor off the roof.

He called for the battalion fire chief below, “We need to get him out of the storm!” Blume yelled.

After Favor was secured into a safety harness, Blume assisted first responders by lowering him down the ladder, rung by rung. Once on the ground, Favor was put onto a gurney and taken to a local hospital.

“I did what made sense, and my Army training reinforced it,” Blume said. “I kept thinking back to what worked in training, what worked on deployments, what’s worked in the past and moved forward with that,” he added.

Favor was eventually transferred to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center, located at Brooke Army Medical Center at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

However, Blume went home that evening unaware of Favor’s condition. He thought the father-to-be died on the roof of that home, after he was unable to get a pulse.

“Everything sped up and slowed down at the same time,” Blume recalled.

Although it felt like everything stopped in those moments, Blume guesses his role in the situation lasted roughly 25 minutes.

He kept wondering what else he could have done. He tried to compartmentalize the situation, like he’d done during his previous deployments.

On one of his deployments to Afghanistan, while working with a team in the trauma unit, Blume did open-heart compressions on an Afghan soldier, who was shot through the aorta.

Unfortunately, the Afghan soldier was pronounced dead as the Army medics placed him on the operating table. Blume was holding the man’s heart at the time of death. Blume feared Favor may have a similar outcome.

On his way home during the storm, he kept thinking he just wanted to get home to his family.

Initially, his wife, Melody, was upset he put himself in harm’s way.

“I was very upset with him,” she said, “but then, I wouldn’t have expected him to be anywhere else.”

“What were you thinking?” she asked him.

He replied, “It was the right thing to do.”

Calm after the storm
The next day, everything calmed down for a period of time. Although he relived the previous night in his head multiple times, Blume carried on as if it were any other day.

He couldn’t stop asking himself, “What else could I have done to save him?”

What Blume didn’t know, however, was that his actions did save Favor’s life. While in the ambulance, Favor responded to a supraglottic airway device Blume inserted on the roof. The local news was covering the story the next morning.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Blume said, “after we were unable to get a pulse for so long, to hear he was still alive was overwhelming to me.”

Blume went to the burn unit to check on Favor’s condition. A young lady, who introduced herself as Favor’s sister, called him their “guardian angel” for his actions.

“I didn’t want to intrude on the family,” he said. “I just wanted to check on him.”

Blume insists he was just trying to do “the right thing” that night, and praises the efforts of the San Antonio-area first responders for their actions.

“They’re the real heroes,” he said. They’re out here every day in the neighborhoods risking their lives at a moment’s call. I was grateful to help give Josh a fighting chance.”

Favor continues fighting, and is still in critical condition at the Burn Center.

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