Nick Williams was sitting under a tree in his wheelchair, reading his Bible, when he was struck by lightning.
The 28-year-old then died from a heart attack in the ambulance.
It took paramedics four minutes to revive him.
He later went into a coma.
On Thursday, about three months after his death-defying experience, Thomas Nicholas Williams is leaving the hospital with his family.
“I’m thankful to be alive and move forward and keep on going,” Williams told reporters during a briefing at Ryder Trauma Center of Jackson Memorial Hospital — in the same room his family had spent hours waiting for news about his condition.
Williams said it never crossed his mind when he left his Pompano Beach home on Aug. 4 to “get some fresh air” that his last memory of that summer day would be sitting under a tree, just down the street from his home, his phone’s Bible app open.
“I was reading and praying, and then I wasn’t,” he said.
When Dr. Nicholas Namias saw him, Williams was unresponsive, on a breathing machine, and showed neurological signs that he wouldn’t recover.
“He was as sick as they come in the ICU,” said Namias, chief of trauma at Ryder Trauma Center.
Williams’ recovery hasn’t been easy.
He was in a coma for nearly a week immediately following the lightning strike, had pneumonia and was on breathing and feeding tubes for weeks. He also had burn marks from his wheelchair, which the lightning had set ablaze, said Emily Netter, his fiancée.
“Its been an uphill battle but it was definitely one I’m glad to have gone through here,” Williams said. “I’ve had to deal with certain memory-related issues, adapting back to normal life, but Jackson has been a good place for that.”
His history of spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injury from a car crash 11 years ago has made his recovery process more challenging, said Dr. Gemayaret Alvarez-Gonzalez, medical director of the neurorehabilitation service at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
The 2008 crash left him paralyzed from the chest down. Before the crash, he played volleyball at his high school team at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, where he is now a substitute teacher.
“Twice in our lifetime we’ve listened to doctors say it does not look good,” said his mother, Donna Pappas. “ “Yes, I know we had a team of tremendous doctors around but he is blessed to be able to fight these kinds of odds.”
His doctors call him “a miracle.” His family believes faith played a role in his survival.
Williams was wearing a cross, like he always did, the day he was struck by lightning, Pappas said. The chain had melted into his neck, leaving marks that are slowly starting to fade. He even had an imprint of the cross on his skin.
But the cross hadn’t melted. His sister found it under the tree a few days after he went to the hospital, first to North Broward Medical and then to Jackson in Miami.
The story still leaves his mother with goosebumps.
While his road to recovery hasn’t ended, Williams has plans for the future.
“I would definitely like a nice hot meal,” he said. “Not to discount the food here, but it is Miami so I know there are a few pretty tasty restaurants around here and I would love a nice fresh cheeseburger. I would love to get back to the gym, playing tennis and get back to planning our wedding.”
The Williams-Netter wedding, which was originally planned for Dec. 21, has been postponed while the couple focuses on his recovery.
Williams, who said he has a new respect for Mother Nature, said he’s excited to go back home and continue living his life with those who have loved and supported him.
“I always had faith in the Lord,” Williams said. “Car accident, getting struck by lightning now, as long as I’m alive I can deal with whatever is coming my way through the love of my family and friends.”