White House lightning survivor reunites with agents who saved her life

Amber Escudero-Kontostathis, the lone survivor of lightning strike in front of the White House, met the Secret Service agents who gave her CPR and aid. (Courtesy U.S. Secret Service)

The lone survivor of lightning strike in front of the White House is still recovering, but has begun to move on with her life. This was a packed week, as she met the agents who saved her life and she went back to school.

On Aug. 4, Amber Escudero-Kontostathis turned 28 years old. That was also the day she and three others were hit by lightning as they stood beneath a tree in Lafayette Square.

The other three people, 29-year-old Brooks A. Lambertson, of California, and James Donna Mueller, from Wisconsin, all died in that incident.

“I’m just feeling really grateful to be here,” said Escudero-Kontostathis.

She told WTOP that she “graduated” from the burn center and is walking well with a new walker. She is still dealing with nerve damage and pain.

“Nerve pain is kind of funky. It’s an unseen injury. It’s actually worse than the burns,” said Escudero-Kontostathis.

She says her recovery has progressed enough to where she does not need to visit the burn unit for regular check-ins.

And while her recovery has a ways to go, her survival has already beat the odds. Especially considering her heart stopped twice.

She said it took time to get her heartbeat back after the lightning strike, but was told she made eye contact with the Secret Service agents who gave her CPR. She also squeezed the hand of an ER nurse who had also come to her aid at the scene.

“Then my heartbeat was eventually lost again for more than 10 to 13 minutes,” said Escudero-Kontostathis. “Which traditionally is not a good sign … Usually doesn’t end up with a survival story after 10 minutes.

“I’m just extremely, extremely grateful that they just didn’t give up on me,” she added. “I mean, none of them did.”

And she did get to thank them. On Monday, Escudero-Kontostathis was reunited with the three Secret Service Agents — Nicole Gonzales, Kevin Drost and Cameron Bunker — who had come to her rescue.

“We were all crying … it wasn’t sad tears,” she said. “It was definitely just that overwhelming feeling that I’m here … I think was just a lot for all of us.”

She said that after meeting up, they all went to dinner.

“We all just were laughing by the end of dinner and sharing stories about our lives with each other, and really got to connect on that additional level beyond just, you know, the lightning strike itself,” Escudero-Kontostathis said.

“I’m really excited to get to have these connections through the rest of my life.”

In addition to the excitement of meeting her rescuers this week, she also began a new program at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in D.C. It is a subject that is important to Escudero-Kontostathis.

On the night of the lightning strike in early August, she had been canvassing for International Rescue Committee, which is a global humanitarian aid, relief and development organization. They are also the largest resettlement agency for the United States and recently helped refugees from Ukraine.

It’s a job she hopes to return to soon.

“I asked people every day to help a person they’ve never met,” she said. “And I had the luck of these wonderful people rushing to my aid. A stranger to them, and putting their lives literally at risk to do so … Kind of like a full-circle moment.”

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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