For the friends and family of Ethan Kadish, the phrase “a bolt out of the blue” is much more than an expression. It’s a description of a day that changed their lives forever.
Ethan was an all-American student who loved hitting home runs and performing in the school play. In June of 2013, Ethan was playing outdoors at a summer camp in Indiana when a lightning bolt launched at him out of a clear blue sky, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury that altered his world in an instant. Ethan now depends on nursing care, a wheelchair and a feeding tube. He cannot speak or purposefully move his body without assistance.
Today is the second anniversary of Ethan’s injury. We spoke to Jen Smilg, a close friend of the Kadish family, to learn more about Ethan, the strength of his support network and his family’s limitless resilience.
How did you learn about Ethan’s accident?
One of my three sons, Ethan Smilg, is close in age to Ethan’s brother, Zakary. My husband and I became close friends with Ethan’s parents after our children met, and we became each other’s emergency contacts. I received the phone call from the Emergency Department in Indianapolis.
How did Team Ethan emerge as a community support network?
Another close family friend developed Team Ethan as a way to organize the delivery of meals, hospital visits and overnight stays. Ethan’s accident brought our faith-based and local communities together to support the Kadish family. The community is still coming together all the time to support his recovery. A small group of us remain on call to stay with Ethan when he is hospitalized. We all just do what needs to be done.
Today, there are not only events orchestrated by close friends and family but also spin-off fundraising events by supporters who have heard about his condition, with 100% of the proceeds donated to HelpHOPELive in Ethan’s honor. We have inspired others to raise awareness and fundraise for HelpHOPELive to support his family’s expenses.
Everywhere you look there are people connecting with Ethan’s story and making an effort to bring hope and relief to his family. Dan Nichols, a well-known Jewish musician, attended the summer camp where Ethan was injured. He reworked an acoustic version of his song and prayer, Chazak, to dedicate to Ethan. Amy Bennett and her husband, Rabbi Jim Bennett, are both involved with the summer camp where Ethan sustained his injury. Amy created beautiful bracelets and has donated several thousands of dollars from bracelet sales directly to HelpHOPELive in honor of Ethan.
Ethan’s Little League Team organized home run derbies to fundraise and his middle school held bake sales and donated the proceeds to his HelpHOPELive campaign. Every little bit helps, from major fundraising events to local lemonade stands.
How did Team Ethan respond to the expenses associated with his injury?
Ethan’s family faced the financial burden of his treatment head-on. There are so many elements that must be managed, from overnight care to rehabilitation, education and transportation. His family continues to fundraise for these needs through HelpHOPELive, and they draw both financial and emotional support from the community.
HelpHOPELive gave us the essentials and we took it from there. Many of Ethan’s supporters have stepped up to donate their time as well as their financial resources.
What sort of therapy does Ethan participate in?
Ethan takes part in daily physical therapies, occupational and speech therapy in his home and at a local rehabilitation center. There have been small victories. Ethan smiles and laughs when he hears music. We’ve mourned the Ethan we used to know and we are now embracing the new Ethan. Ethan’s peers have been very accepting and embrace his new identity.
Has Ethan’s injury created a need for greater advocacy or safety precautions?
Raising awareness about the bolt out of the blue phenomenon is definitely important, and so is lightning awareness. Weather stations should take precautions to warn local citizens about these dangers, and individuals should respond to dangerous weather appropriately. However, I strongly believe that fear and terror are not appropriate responses. My kids and Ethan’s siblings have continued to return to the summer camp where Ethan was injured. The camp is their community away from home, and this accident should not stop them or any other camper from experiencing that.
There have been quite a few recent news stories about people being struck by a rogue bolt from a blue sky. These sorts of stories provide an opening for community support and family connections that can be incredibly meaningful. I think connecting with families who have gone through similar situations would be a powerful resource.
How did Ethan’s injury impact his family?
The term “bolt out of the blue” sums it up: his family still remains unsure of what the future holds for Ethan. Most doctors have never even encountered a lightning strike survivor. The uncertainty is tough to deal with, but everyone keeps going.
At social occasions people will almost always ask the question, “How are Ethan’s parents doing?” My answer is, Scott and Alexia’s life is what it is, filled with the ups and downs and constant change of parenting three children. Life threw them a curveball and they are all adapting as any parent or family would.
Ethan’s family has had to learn as they go because his condition is so rare. They probably know more about brain injuries and the effects of lightning now than almost any other family out there. They know advanced medical terms cold. All of his family members have become advocates for his care and recovery.