Strike from the Sky


In one sizzling moment, the world changed for D. J. Would he ever be the same again?

D. J. Holland doesn’t have a zigzag haircut anymore. Nor does he have any scars from the lightning that struck him a few summers ago in Daniel, Wyoming. But he still has a testimony of the power of prayer and of the priesthood.

He remembers the dark sky and the distant lightning flashes as he worked on his grandfather’s ranch that August afternoon when he was 17. He had just brought in his last truckload of baled hay from the wide, open fields.

“I knew it was going to rain,” recalls D. J., “but it never crossed my mind that the storm would threaten my life. I just wanted to get as much work done as I could before the rain came.”

D. J. parked his semi behind another hay-filled truck, driven there by his younger cousin Ross Varner. Then he hurried into the barn. There he helped Ross and their grandfather Ron Wagstaff hoist the bales into place with a huge hay fork on a backhoe tractor.

“After a few minutes Grandpa asked me to go out to the cattle feeder, which was about 100 feet away, and clean out the strings,” says D. J. “These are plastic ties which are taken off the bales and left in the feeder. They need to be cleaned out before spring so the animals can use the feeder before the grass grows high enough to graze.

“The bars on the feeder were metal, a perfect target for lightning,” says D. J. “But I didn’t think about that until it was too late.”

While D. J. cleaned up the strings, Ross and his grandfather worked fast to get the hay unloaded before the rain came and the lightning grew worse.

“Storms come up quick there,” recalls Ross. “And after what had happened in the past, we usually headed for cover any time we saw lightning. Lightning killed a white horse that Grandpa had given to me about two years before,” he continues. “It also hit a big barn that was full of hay and expensive tools. It burned to the ground.

“That day as we unloaded the hay, we heard a few faraway rumbles of thunder. Then suddenly we heard a big one that was really close,” remembers Ross. “It kind of spooked us, and we said we’d better go in. We looked around for D. J. and couldn’t see him. We decided he’d probably gone back to the house.”

Ross and his grandpa jumped into the small Honda and started for the ranch house about a city block away. As they pulled out, they saw something startling—two boots sticking up from a pile of dirt. D. J.! Quickly they drove there, fearing the worst. There lay D. J., unconscious. Most of his shirt was gone. A zigzag mark on his bare chest looked as though it had been drawn with a black marker. His baseball cap lay several feet away.

Ross and Grandpa lifted his limp six-foot-four frame into the little Honda as quickly as they could.

“It was pretty scary,” recalls Ross. “Grandpa dropped me off at the house, and I called the doctor in Pinedale to tell him Grandpa was bringing D. J. in. Then I called Salt Lake City to tell his mom and dad and also my mom and grandma. I was really nervous.”

On the way to the clinic, D. J. gained consciousness.

“When I woke up in the back of the car,” says D. J., “I was confused and didn’t know what was happening. I was numb. I couldn’t move. I asked, ‘What happened? Where are we going?’ My grandpa kept patting me and saying that I was going to be all right.”

At the clinic, medical personnel put D. J. on a gurney, they cut his shredded shirt from his body, and they stuffed cotton into his bleeding ear.

“They put me in a restraint that clamped around my forehead and down my body in case I had neck and back injuries,” says D. J. “Apparently the lightning had knocked me a few feet.”

The Pinedale doctor suggested that an ambulance transport D. J. to a larger clinic in Rock Springs for further treatment. By the time he arrived in the nearby Wyoming city, D.J’s parents, Douglas and Jennifer Holland, were there to meet him.

When the emergency room physician examined D. J., he found a severely burned right ear, much of his sandy-colored hair above the ear melted off, and a face scarred with burns. Finger-like projections all down his body resembled burst capillaries. The physician, amazed that D. J. had survived, arranged to have him taken to the University of Utah Medical Center burn unit in Salt Lake City.

During the 90-minute ride to the Salt Lake hospital, D. J. was awake and aware of the trip. In his room a few hours later—in the middle of the night—a crowd of worried family members gathered around his hospital bed.

“The room was full,” D. J. fondly remembers. “My parents and four sisters and my grandparents were there. Ross and other cousins and aunts and uncles were there. My grandpa gave me a priesthood blessing. Grandpa blessed me that I would completely recover from the accident, and that I would have no scars or ill effects. After the blessing I had no doubt that I would be okay.”

During his 24-hour hospital stay, D. J. learned that besides the extensive burns on his body, he had a seriously damaged eardrum. He later learned that sometimes the eardrum will rupture because of the loud percussion of thunder.

But that didn’t worry D. J. He did know he needed to do something about his burned-off hair. The barber had an appropriate idea. He shaved D. J.’s head, except for a zigzag, lightning-bolt strip down the center.

During the next few weeks D. J. returned to the hospital several times to have his burns checked. They were healing. Then he went to an ear specialist. This doctor told the family that the burned-out eardrum probably wouldn’t mend and that he might have to graft in a new one. Only time would tell.

Just two weeks after the first visit with the specialist, D. J. went back.

“This time the doctor was really surprised,” D. J. says. “He found that my eardrum was actually growing back. It wasn’t completely healed yet, but it was growing back. It was a miracle.”

Today, D. J.’s burns have completely healed. He has no scars on his face or body, and he has no hearing loss. He even has to stop to think which is his damaged ear. His hair also has grown out. But most of all, he has a very strong testimony of the power of prayer and of the priesthood.

“I said a lot of prayers back then, and so did my family,” says D. J. “But mostly I knew that Grandpa had given me an inspired priesthood blessing.”

Editor’s Note: D. J. is now married and living in Salt Lake City. Ross recently finished his freshman year at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He is preparing for a mission.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann