TAMPA— After his 11-year-old son took a lightning bolt to the heart, Chuck Watlington is pleading for prayers.
"There's no change. He's in a coma," Watlington said, hugging his wife Friday at a news conference outside Tampa General Hospital. "He's, by the grace of God, lucky to be alive."
Fort Myers sixth-grader Jesse Watlington was in critical condition Friday afternoon after lightning struck him during football practice at Southwest Florida Christian School on Wednesday.
Tubes protrude from his nose and wires snake out of his nightgown.
His parents—who are staying at Ronald McDonald House Charities in Tampa—have been by his side constantly, Chuck Watlington said.
McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, which calls the school one of its ministries, set up a donation fund to help with the family's medical expenses, and hundreds packed the church's pews Thursday to pray for Jesse, Watlington said.
Christian football teams around the country have been wearing Jesse's number, 51, Watlington said.
"He's a little boy who has never misbehaved in his whole life," Watlington added. "He's the sweetest, quietest little kid, everybody loves him."
Watlington also thanked his pastor and the football coaches who delivered the CPR that kept Jesse alive as medical help was on the way.
Paramedics first transported the dark-haired boy to Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers. He was transferred to HealthPark Medical Center, and then was brought to Tampa General by helicopter.
Jesse, one of the smallest players on his middle school football team, is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
He was the first player out on the field when he was struck, his dad said.
His teammates felt the lightning's electricity surge but were unharmed. It wasn't raining.
"We ask for continued prayer, and for him to regain consciousness," Watlington said.
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at (850) 323-0353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.