Lightning Strikes

Brandi Frakie’s life has been one of fire and ice.


The fire came early — that when she was 10 years old and she and her 7-year old sister, Britteny, were struck by lightning while visiting their relatives in Medina, Minn., not far from their St. Louis Park home in the suburbs of Minneapolis. The ice has always been present, ever since she was selected for prestigious club teams as a youngster, and these days as a promising freshman forward on the Wayne State University women’s team.

But first the fire: A storm had been brewing that August afternoon, but it was still 30 miles away. Frakie knew it was one of those wicked Minnesota summer storms, but at the time, it was completely sunny. Suddenly, the weather changed as quickly as a puck can skitter in an errant direction.

Frakie was getting hockey gloves from the back of her uncle’s trucks in preparation for an ironically-named Minnesota Lightning U-12 tournament scheduled for that afternoon. “I was handing her (Britteny) the gloves and the next thing, I knew she ended up passed out,” she said.

The lightning also felled Brandi, but she regained consciousness quickly. When she did, she might have felt she was still in the throes of some nightmare as she saw people gathered around her sister, who was lying face down with a stilled heart beat.

“She was pronounced dead for seven minutes,” Brandi recalled. But through some quick thinking, the assistance of a neighbor who was a nurse and others, Britteny was carried to an open field and administered CPR by her relatives. Emergency personnel were called in, and she was airlifted to the nearest hospital.

Brandi, meanwhile, had regained consciousness, and except for being scared and shaky, she was back in the house watching the proceedings from a large bay window with her cousins.

“I kept saying ‘Oh, my gosh, oh my gosh,'” she said. “My cousins were saying ‘think of your parents,’ and I’m thinking ‘think of me!'” she said. The group of them started to pray for Britteny’s life and Brandi soon found herself in an ambulance on the way to the same hospital as her sister.

The scene was grim, although during the airlift Britteny had regained consciousness. The question remained of the effects of being without a heart beat for seven minutes.

She was in an induced coma to prevent worse problems and then for a few days “hooked up to every machine possible” in the hospital ICU ward, Frakie said. A press conference was called and the sisters, under the watchful eye of the medical staff, gave their versions of the “lightning strikes twice” story — by now all over the media — and their miraculous escape from near death experiences.

“My sister wouldn’t let go of my mom,” Brandi remembered. “She was dazed and confused.” She can only remember up to a half hour before she was struck. After that everything went blank for Britteny.

But Frakie, kind of like the take-charge player she is today, was together enough to retrace the experience and give the media what it was seeking. Once she knew her sister (who still suffers from short-term memory loss) was okay, she became angry that she had to miss the afternoon hockey game, but she was back on the ice the next day.

Her sister, meanwhile, slowly recovered. For three years she was home-schooled and still suffers some mild short-term memory loss, but otherwise she is thriving as a junior at St. Louis Park High School.

The hardest part for Frakie — and this haunts her still — is how helpless she felt that day. “I felt there was nothing I could do but stand there and watch other people giver her CPR while I kept saying ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh’ over and over again,” she said.

The feeling prompted her to choose medicine as her career, because she never wants to feel that helpless again when a person is at risk. She is enrolled in Wayne State’s six-year combination pre-med and medicine program, one of the few in the country, and one of the reasons she selected the Detroit school.

She knows everything there is to know about lightning, including the fact that there’s only a one in 600,000 chance of being struck, and she’s only nervous if she’s back home and the conditions are comparable.

“If I hear thunder and see lightning, and it’s intense, I’m shaken up a little by it,” she said.

She does not get nervous about injuries, however. When she suffered a mild concussion at the start of the season in a game against St. Lawrence, she didn’t think she should miss a game, but the team staff felt otherwise.

Her coach Jim Fetters and teammates think she has the potential to help the team in her freshman year. She’s certainly efficient with three points on three shots, and Fetters said her speed is a definite asset. Right now she centers the third line. Her scoring potential was established in high school where she scored 233 career points.

“She’s really starting to come around,” said Melissa Boal, the team’s best offensive player. “She’s very fast and works hard … and that’s good for us.”

And she knows nothing is for sure. She says she realized from that experience with her sister that “you can’t ever take anything for granted” — not hockey, not family and certainly not Mother Nature.