The Betterton Volunteer Fire Company ambulance raced over winding country roads, making six miles in seven minutes with its lights and siren going. In the back, Capt. Debbie Price was going over her mental checklist for cardiac arrest as she and a colleague replaced the adult-size pads on a defibrillator with ones small enough for a child.
But before the ambulance even reached the scene of the emergency -- an Eastern Shore summer camp where lightning had struck two campers, stopping the heart of one -- Price got good news. Camp staffers had used their own defibrillator to restart the boy's heart.
"Thank God they had it," Price said. She and other rescuers yesterday credited the defibrillator, and the emergency training of staff members at Camp Tockwogh, with saving the boy's life.
Less than a decade ago, defibrillators were virtually unheard-of in recreational settings, said Brent Hetherington, a former paramedic and founder of Premedics, a Nashville-based company that services the machines and trains people to use them.
The equipment, which costs $1,500 to $2,000, came into public use in the late 1990s, when states began passing laws requiring such facilities as malls and health clubs to install defibrillators, as well as passing "Good Samaritan" laws to protect rescuers from lawsuits.
"You lose a 10 percent chance [of survival] each minute that you wait from the point of collapse to the shock" with a defibrillator, Hetherington said.
If the child survives without neurological damage, "most likely he received the shock within four to six minutes" of the heart stopping, Hetherington said.
The 11-year-old boy, whose name was not released, was taken to Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. A second 11-year-old who apparently was standing nearby when the lightning struck was also taken to the hospital, but his injuries appeared minor, according to the YMCA of Delaware, which operates the camp. The hospital would not provide information on the boys' condition.
Kent rescue workers said they got a 911 call about 5 p.m. reporting that a child at the camp had been struck. The emergency was dire enough that Betterton emergency medical technician Penny Thorpe didn't even bother going to the firehouse -- she took her husband and child and drove to Camp Tockwogh in her car.
Price said a camp employee, whom she believed was a nurse, shocked the child three times with the defibrillator before his heart began beating on its own.
Thorpe said that when she arrived, she saw the boy, dressed in swim trunks and tennis shoes, being attended to by counselors on the concrete floor of a recreation building. Other children had been ushered away. The boy had been revived by the defibrillator, and two counselors were helping him breathe with a plastic ventilator.
Thorpe said rescuers looked to see where the lightning had entered and exited the child's body, taking off his shoes to see if it left through his feet. But the only outward signs of injury were a few bruises and red spots around the eyelids, she said -- leading rescuers to surmise that the electricity had entered his body near there.
As the paramedics "packaged" the boy for transportation by state police helicopter, a heavy rain began to fall, rescuers said. Price said the child never spoke.
"At one point, he like opened his eyes and started to cry, but that was all," said Price, who accompanied the boy to Johns Hopkins. "Just a couple of seconds, and then he was quiet."
Though details of the incident were unclear, rescuers said it seemed that the second boy had not been struck directly but had touched the first child after the powerful shock.
The Delaware YMCA, which has operated the camp since the 1930s, said in a statement that the lightning struck as counselors and campers were seeking shelter from a fast-moving thunderstorm. The YMCA described the rescuers as a camp nurse and a waterfront coordinator but would not name the children or the employees.
The strike occurred on the second day of a two-week session at the sleep-away camp, which houses 400 campers and counselors during the summer.
Gordon Hesse, a YMCA spokesman, said the camp in northern Kent County is in an area known locally as Thunder Alley for its frequent electrical storms.
Staff writer Nelson Hernandez contributed to this report.