‘I feel like a different person’: AFLW star opens up about lightning strike trauma

AFLW star Jessica Wuetschner has revealed the terrifying physical and mental toll of a lightning strike in 2020 that “destroyed my life” and almost derailed her football career.

It was two weeks into the 2020 AFLW season when Wuetschner, then 27 and playing for the Brisbane Lions while working as a stevedore, was struck by lightning as the crane she was driving was unloading a ship at the Queensland docks.

“The storm is just starting to roll in and it’s pouring with rain, I mean like a torrential downpour in Queensland, and the wind is blowing at 60km an hour, it’s like needles in the face,” Wuetschner recalls in the TikTok video.

“I say to the man who works with me, ‘We shouldn’t be working right now, it’s a terrible storm to be out now,’ but I’m just me, a little stevedore, I’m not in charge, I’m just doing what I’m told. “

Wuetschner, now 30, said she heard “a big bang, clap zzz” when lightning struck the pole she was holding. “I saw big, blue-white flashes go up my arms, and then from there I just kind of like fell to the ground.

Wuetschner says she feared for her life before she was taken to the hospital.

“After about three hours I was released, at about 5:30… I walked out of the hospital with no shoes, soaked, no way to get home, no family, none of my friends answered the phone.” I had to get into a wet taxi myself to get home.”

But her odyssey was far from over. Wuetschner was back in the hospital two weeks later after an adverse reaction to anti-anxiety medication. “It was a really scary time and that’s when we came to the conclusion that I needed to go on anti-depressants to help manage the anxiety,” she explained. .

Wuetschner, who missed the opening month of the 2021 season, re-established herself as a key cog in Brisbane to win her first premiership. She kicked two goals in the 18-point Grand Final win against Adelaide. But although she has been able to continue her AFLW career, the anxiety and PTSD she suffered from the accident still causes her significant problems.

“I was lucky I wasn’t physically affected,” Wuetschner said. “I was wearing rubber gloves and rubber boots and I was suspended in the air, which means no electricity went through me, which is my salvation.

But she clarified: “I’m saving grace for my life, but not so much for my sanity.

A two-time All-Australian from Hobart, Wuetschner was a gifted hockey and cricket star before making her Brisbane debut in the 2016 AFLW season. In 2022, Wuetschner announced she would be taking time out from the AFLW to focus on her mental health. Brisbane said they would “continue to give Jess our full support”, but Wuetschner was axed in May. She joined Essendon the following month.

But while her career continued, so did her struggle with the aftermath of that fateful day in 2020. “I’m afraid to leave the house for a few more days,” she explained. “I used to travel the world (but) now I couldn’t even think about traveling. I couldn’t think of going somewhere that wasn’t in my safe zone, my safe place.

“I’m afraid to eat certain things in case I have an allergic reaction.”

Wuetschner said her problems began to improve after working with psychologists, but others remained. “I’m afraid of bugs. I’m afraid of any medicine I don’t know. I basically take paracetamol and that’s about it. I don’t like leaving the house all the time, I still struggle a lot if something happens. It’s always the what ifs.

“So this is what I’ve been dealing with… that’s why it’s ruined my life and I feel like a different person.

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