Nature’s medical detective

Posted on November 06, 2020

For those who are fascinated by nature’s extremes, a new show called Lightning Pathologist featuring specialist forensic pathologist Professor Ryan Blumenthal will be coming to your screen soon. A professor of Pathology at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Prof Blumenthal has made it his life’s work to study one of nature’s most prolific serial killers: lightning. This electrifying eight-part series begins on 9 November 2020 on People’sWeather, DStv channel 180, at 6pm. 
Truth is way stranger than fiction, reveals Prof Blumenthal in this journey into the intriguing world of lightning. He tells several legendary, often tragic, stories of those who have lost their lives as a result of this phenomenon. 
In each episode, Prof Blumenthal explores his passion for lightning and the dramatic electro-thermal injuries it inflicts on people and animals. South Africa has the highest number of lightning deaths per capita (second only to India), all in rural areas with no access to accurate weather information. “Lightning deaths are preventable,” says Prof Blumenthal, adding: “When thunder roars, go indoors!” 
He is the natural world’s medical detective, long involved in the publication of several articles and textbooks on lightning and the injuries it inflicts – he’s helped to generate both national and international standard operating procedures and guidelines for lightning strike fatality and electrocution victims. 
The professor was eager to take these fascinating stories of lightning strikes – which were mostly the subject of scientific research – into the public domain in an effort to create awareness about the natural phenomenon. As such, he says he is delighted that this series will reveal some historical South African mysteries. “I’ve long wanted to share the St Katherine's lightning story, a tragedy that happened in 1994 in Modimolle in Limpopo. It involved 26 girls aged 10 and 11, two adults and seven dogs that were camping at the end of a week-long school trip. Tragically, lightning struck their tent, and four girls and four dogs died. Telling this story on Lightning Pathologist has been a deeply personal and emotional moment for me.” 
Another moving moment in the series is the re-enactment of one of South Africa’s most tragic lightning strikes: “Two students in love, Valerie Wilcocks and Johan Bestendic de la Harpe, were on holiday with friends in the Drakensberg for Johan’s 21st birthday party. Both were killed instantly on Mont-aux-Sources in December 1932.”
These and many more absorbing, and often heartbreaking, tales all unfold in Lightning Pathologist, told with great sensitivity and respect. “The mystery, chemistry and sheer power of lightning have enthralled humankind since the beginning of time,” says Stephan le Roux, CEO of People’sWeather. “Nothing intrigues more than its near-supernatural power to strike a person, a tree or an animal within nanoseconds. Warning: this eight-part series is addictive.” 
Myths, legends, facts and fiction: Prof Blumenthal unpacks the medical mystery of this powerful, often terrifying, force of nature. Keraunopathology is the study of lightning-induced trauma – and a word that will no doubt form part of viewers’ vocabulary when the series begins.
Available on all DStv bouquets in Southern Africa, including the free tier. 
- Author Department of Institutional Advancement

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