After 95 Days in the Hospital, South Florida Paraplegic Struck by Lightning is Going Home


Thomas “Nicholas” Williams, patient; Donna Pappas, patient’s mother; Emily Netter, patient’s fiancée; Nicholas Namias, MD, chief of trauma at Ryder Trauma Center; Gemayaret Alvarez-Gonzalez, MD, medical director of the neurorehabilitation service at Jackson Memorial Hospital


Thomas “Nicholas” Williams was in his wheelchair under a tree, waiting for a storm to pass, when he was struck by lightning near his Pompano Beach home on August 4, 2019. As the wheelchair caught fire, neighbors called 911 as they tried to help the 28-year-old. When Pompano Beach Fire Rescue arrived, Williams was unconscious and immediately taken to the nearest hospital.

En route, he suffered a heart attack and it took paramedics four minutes to revive him. Once stabilized, Williams was transferred to the Miami Burn Center located in the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was seen by a multidisciplinary team of UHealth/Jackson physicians.

These included Joyce Kaufman, MD, trauma surgeon; Carl Schulman, MD, PhD, MSPH, FACS, trauma/burn surgeon; Gregory Holt, MD, pulmonologist; and Gemayaret Alvarez-Gonzalez, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation.

“When he arrived, he was post-cardiac arrest, requiring full supportive care,” said Dr. Schulman. “He was unconscious with no significant movements or response.”

Williams remained in coma for almost a week, overcame pneumonia and remained intubated for weeks. It was also unknown if he had suffered any permanent brain damage.

“ICU medicine exposes us to frightening human tragedy but what makes it truly rewarding is meeting people like Nick,” said Dr. Holt. “Nick faced the multiple, repetitive complications from the lightning strike with an attitude of determined conviction that he would overcome confirming my belief in the power of the human spirit.”

Williams’ family believes the power of prayer and community support is what kept their faith going as he slowly recovered. They remember the first positive sign was when he started mouthing their prayers.

Over the course of his hospitalization, Williams received extensive occupational, physical, and speech therapy at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital.

“He has surpassed our expectations on his recovery, based on the severity of his injuries,” said Dr. Alvarez-Gonzalez.

This was not the first time Williams came close to a near-death experience. In May 2008, Williams was in a car crash that left him paralyzed from the chest down and would need comprehensive rehabilitation services at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital. At that time, he was a volleyball player at Cardinal Gibbons High School.

“We were told it doesn’t look good but he’s defied the odds both times,” said his mother, Donna Pappas. “We’re thankful to Jackson for saving my son’s life twice.”

After the first traumatic incident, Williams graduated high school and college, met his soon-to-be wife Emily Netter, and became a motivational speaker. He keeps active by playing wheelchair tennis twice a week, and he works as a substitute teacher at his former high school.

“If you work hard and stay positive, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Williams, who looks forward to being home for Thanksgiving with his family. “Keep a positive attitude and mindset to move forward.”

During a press conference on Thursday, Williams will share his medical journey, thank his medical team for not giving up on him, and share his excitement to resume planning for his upcoming wedding planning.


10 to 11 a.m., Thursday, November 7, 2019


Ryder Trauma Center, Room T-103
1800 N.W. 10th Ave.
Miami, FL 33136

Editor’s Note:

Media can park in the Ryder media lot.
Dr. Alvarez speaks Spanish.

Dropbox link for images:

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