(NEW YORK) — In an exclusive interview with Good Morning America, Amber Escudero-Kontostathis sits down to talk for the first time about being the sole survivor of a lightning strike near the White House earlier this month, on her 28th birthday, and her road to recovery.
“I don’t remember much of that day at all,” Escudero-Kontostathis told GMA in her first interview since the incident.
On Aug. 4, Escudero-Kontostathis, 28, was canvassing outside the White House for Threshold Giving, a nonprofit organization through the International Rescue Committee that helps refugees, when she and three others took cover underneath a tree at Lafayette Square after it began to rain.
Six bolts of lightning struck the group within half a second, killing three others, including 76-year-old James Mueller and 75-year-old Donna Mueller, a married couple celebrating their anniversary, and Brooks Lambertson, a 29-year-old Los Angeles man who was in D.C. for business.
Escudero-Kontostathis said the lightning struck her through the ground and traveled through her body, resulting in significant burns on her body.
“I don’t know why I survived,” she said. “I don’t feel good about being the only survivor, that’s for sure. I’m grateful, but I just don’t feel good about being the only one.”
She doesn’t recall much of her stay at the hospital, where she was placed in the Intensive Care Unit, but does remember the nurses trying to keep her calm and telling her things would be OK.
Escudero-Kontostathis praised the burn and ICU nurses for checking on her and providing constant care.
“You would hit the little things saying you were in pain and they’d be like ‘we’re coming,’ and they walk in and their name was always on the board,” she said. “I had more of a personal relationship and memory with the burn center nurses, but I’m excited to eventually get to meet the ICU nurses in person again now that I’m more conscious of that.”
She said her path to recovery has been frustrating both physically and mentally. “I forget that I can’t just get up and do stuff. I have to use a walker, for example,” she said.
“You wake up and you think that you can just get up and go and brush your teeth or get a cup of coffee yourself and I can’t, my whole left sides like pretty charred,” Escudero-Kontostathis said. “Mentally, also a little frustrated because I want to be working and doing things.”
Escudero, who’s the director of Threshold Giving’s canvassing team, said she enjoyed the work she did and that being unable to work while she recovers is one of the more painful parts of this experience.
“I get to help people find their inner activist and bridge them to the work they want to see in the world,” Escudero-Kontostathis said. “Not getting to do that every day is probably more painful than cleaning the burns, which is pretty painful.”
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