`Lightning Girl’ finds ways to say thanks after concert accident

Lysa Selfon signed the thank-you notes she sent this summer “Greetings from the Lightning Girl.”

“It’s funny that I had to become `the lightning girl’ to get attention,” she said.

Selfon has plenty of reasons to say thank you, and she’s come up with plenty of ways to do it.

Selfon, a third-year GW law student, was struck by lightning two months ago at the Tibetan Freedom Concert at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

John Shaw, a trauma paramedic, and Jamshed Zuberi, a surgical resident, were sitting near Selfon when the lightning struck her. The pair started CPR immediately and were able to prevent brain damage that could have resulted from the accident.

As Selfon began to recover from the effects of the lightning strike, she wanted to properly thank the doctors who had saved her life. Thank-you cards from “the lightning girl” just did not show enough gratitude, she said.

She became close friends with Zuberi and asked him how to appropriately thank her doctors. Zuberi suggested Selfon contribute to the Burning Bush Fund, a fund that benefits the Burn Center at Washington Hospital Center.

Selfon said she hopes to raise $50,000 for the center.

After she appeared on MTV, many viewers mailed donations to the fund. But Selfon has found another way to raise money.

As owner of a Dupont Circle paint-your-own-pottery store called PriMUDonna, Selfon is familiar with unconventional ways to make money.

With the help of Mitch Carr, owner of Splash Records, Selfon compiled a CD that will be sold to benefit the Burning Bush Fund. The CD – entitled One Little Corner – will feature local bands and will debut at the Bayou in Georgetown Sept. 28.

“We’re calling it One Little Corner to show people can do their little bit to change the world,” Selfon said. “If nothing else, I’m learning a lot about the music industry.”

As Selfon recovered in the hospital from the burns and internal damage caused by the lightning strike, many of the performers featured at the Tibetan Freedom Concert contacted her. Selfon kept a scrapbook filled with personal letters and memorabilia from bands like R.E.M. and the Dave Matthews Band. She said she keeps in touch with some of them and will meet Dave Matthews and the Beastie Boys soon.

Selfon said she was grateful for the attention because it served as a diversion during recovery. And she said she was grateful for the outpouring of affection from her friends, family and even strangers. To honor those who sent her letters during her hospital stay, Selfon said she is listing their names on an insert in the CD.

Selfon said her friends always teased her for her naivet? – she believes people are genuinely good. After receiving attention from so many strangers, she stands by that.

“There are so many more good people than jaded, cynical people,” Selfon said.

She tells a story to prove it: During her hospital stay, Selfon’s doctors encouraged her to eat red meat despite her vegetarian habits because the meat would make her burns heal faster. Reluctantly, Selfon agreed and asked her mother to call the hospital’s gourmet kitchen for a hamburger. Special orders usually cost $20, but the chef wanted to do something special for “the lightning girl,” so he did not charge her. Later that day, a waiter wheeled a cart into Selfon’s room.

“It was as though they were bringing me room service,” she said. “There was a cloth tablecloth, flowers and when he uncovered the dish, a hamburger.”

With her freckled complexion and incessant giggle, it’s easy to forget Selfon is recovering from a tragic accident. But for Selfon, subtle reminders linger.

She sat with her mother, Roseanne, and tried to remember the days she spent in the hospital. Lysa suffered some memory loss when she was struck and said she does not remember the concert or the early aftermath.

“It’s like having a card catalogue in my head and I can’t open the drawer to see what’s inside,” she said.

Two weeks ago, Lysa underwent surgery to repair her nose and her ear, which were injured when the bolt struck her. She must massage her nose often to prevent it from breaking again and sometimes suffers pain from internal scarring.

“Not knowing is the hardest thing for me,” Roseanne said. “There’s a huge laundry list of things that can affect lightning victims (after their initial injuries).”

Lysa said she cannot wait to return to GW for her third year of law school and appreciates the willingness of the law school’s deans and professors to accommodate her special needs.

Lysa reflects on what she has learned from her experience this summer.

“I have more respect for Mother Nature now, but I don’t fear it,” she said.

With the colorful background of PriMUDonna as her backdrop, Lysa said she is ready to celebrate because she is no longer a victim. Lysa said she’s ready to party when she turns 26 Sept. 18.

“We have a lot to celebrate,” Roseanne said.

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