REAL LIFE

Killed by an umbrella: inside one woman’s tragic death

Horrifying!
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Storm horror Ben was excited about the future, then tragedy struck.

Here, Ben Hollow, 24, tells the story in his own words.

As a roll of thunder roared outside, I had an idea.

‘Let’s go and take some photos!’ I said to my partner Lauren, 25.

A keen photographer, she’d snapped some great pictures of a lightning storm the week before.

It was a Friday night in November last year and we’d just got home from our jobs in real estate. Saving hard, we often stayed late in the office. But today we’d given ourselves the evening off.

When I joined the company in 2014 Lauren was a bright, bubbly receptionist.

Always lending an ear to anyone, she was the life and soul of our tight-knit team.

‘I really want to work my way up,’ she told me.

It turned out we had the same life plan – knuckle down now, buy our homes, then travel the world.

Blown away by how similar we were, we became best buds. We told each other everything and when Lauren was promoted to office manager, I was thrilled for her.

‘You’d make such a great couple,’ our workmates would tease. But we’d laugh it off.

Then, two and a half years after we’d met, I went to Lauren’s for a takeaway and we realised we didn’t want to spend the night apart. The two of us belong together, I thought. ‘I want to be with you,’ I confessed.

We decided to start dating, agreeing to hide it from the rest of the office. But that didn’t last long. ‘About time you two!’ they all laughed.

Already inseparable, within days we’d moved in together.

kiss
We were inseparable (Credit: Supplied)

Sunday was our adventure day. Jumping in the car with no destination in mind, we’d stop at scenic spots while Lauren took pictures.

Now, we were off again to take some lightning shots. Pulling up on a road with a view, raindrops began to fall. So I opened an umbrella as Lauren snapped away at the lightning in the distance.

Huddled together, our arms around each other, I felt so content.

‘I love you,’ I told Lauren. ‘I love you,’ she smiled.

The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back. What the..? I thought, disorientated.

In horror, I realised I couldn’t feel my legs and the rest of my body hurt. And there was a deafening ringing in my ears. Then I saw Lauren next to me, completely still. We’ve been hit by lightning! I realised. We’d been blown apart and thrown to the ground. I didn’t panic though. If I’m okay, Lauren must be okay, I reasoned. But she was still knocked out and I knew we needed help as quickly as possible.

My phone was in the car, so using my arms, I dragged myself along the ground.

But soon after, a car stopped and a couple got out. The woman called Triple-0 and everything became a blur as they started to do CPR on Lauren, motioning at me to stay back. When two ambulances arrived, I asked after Lauren again and again.

‘She’s going to be alright,’ I was told. Thank goodness, I thought, flooded with relief.

At Emergency, my sister Chris, 29, and twin, Sam, 24, were there waiting. Lightning injuries are so rare, no-one knew what to expect.

My heart was weak from the bolt passing through me, I had nerve damage, and burns to my hand and side of my body needed dressing. My legs were swelling dangerously too and needed to be cut open and drained. ‘How’s Lauren?’ I asked before the procedure. ‘She’s fine,’ came the reply. ‘Don’t worry.’

surgery
My legs had to be cut open to release fluid

Waking up the next day, my mum, Wendy, 56, and dad, Richard, 59, were at my bedside. Now, I just needed to see Lauren, my rock. We’ll get through this together, I thought. That’s when they broke the terrible news. Lauren, my best friend and the love of my life, had gone.

The lightning strike had stopped her heart and she’d passed away instantly. I’m the last to know? I thought angrily.

It hadn’t occurred to me that if I’d survived, she might not. The future we’d planned had been ripped away.

The truth had been kept from me on purpose because of how weak my heart was.

plans for the future
Lauren and I made so many plans for the future (Credit: Supplied)

Lying in hospital, utterly broken, my only aim was to get out for Lauren’s funeral.

Thankfully, I made it to the beautiful service. Lauren’s coffin was decorated with unicorns and so many people came to say goodbye.

Discharged before Christmas, I couldn’t imagine the holiday without her.

On Christmas Day, I went to the spot where the lightning had struck. I love you, I told Lauren.

Eight months on, my legs are still numb but I can walk short distances with crutches.

I’m back at work between hospital appointments, but I’m battling mounting medical costs and the office isn’t the same without her.

Doctors aren’t sure what’s ahead. My injuries could cause long-term damage to the nervous system and muscles. But I’ve vowed to do all the things Lauren and I planned. She was my whole life, so I’m going to live for her.

To donate, visit My Cause and search Fighting for Ben.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!, on sale now.

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