‘We Thought He Was Gone’: A Longhorn Parent’s Nightmare in Boston

Brian Downes, BA ’72, has had the longest week of his life. After his son and daughter-in-law both lost a leg in the Boston Marathon bombings, Downes asked the Alcalde to share their story.

"We Thought He Was Gone": In a Parent's Worst Nightmare, a Longhorn Reaches Out

In 2005, Patrick Downes and Jess Kensky both ran the Boston Marathon. That day they were strangers, with no idea that a year later they’d meet and fall in love.

Patrick was working at a Congressional office in D.C. when a former coworker caught his eye. They’ve been together ever since, and on Aug. 25, 2012, they got married. They moved to Patrick’s hometown of Boston, where he was finishing a doctor of psychology degree and she was working as an oncology nurse.

Both fitness nuts, they loved hiking, cycling, and running together. They were planning a move to San Francisco, where Patrick had landed a psychology internship.

They went to the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday to reminisce about their 2005 run and celebrate the city’s biggest sporting event. When the bomb went off, Patrick was standing behind Jess with his arms wrapped around her waist.

They were were both severely injured in the blast and lost each other in the chaos that followed. Before a volunteer carried her to an ambulance, Jess heard Patrick say, “That’s my wife.”

Patrick’s father, Brian Downes, BA ’72, was 70 miles away in his home on Cape Cod when he got a call from Jess’ family in California, letting him know that his daughter-in-law had been hurt. He and his wife sped toward the city. Worried they might be stopped for speeding, they asked for help at a police station in Plymouth, Mass. A policeman offered to escort them, and with the siren wailing, his squad car led them to the front doors of Boston Medical Center. Jess was in surgery there.

For four agonizing hours, no one knew where Patrick was. “We thought he was gone,” Brian says.

Then Brian got a call saying his son was in a different hospital with only minor injuries. That turned out to be false—Patrick had lost his left leg below the knee, he was hit with shrapnel, and he’d suffered some burns. Jess also lost her left leg, and doctors said they’d probably have to amputate her right foot, too.

Boston Marathon VignettesOn the phone Friday morning, Brian recounts the story in a calm, steady voice. He says he’s turned down dozens of media requests, but he contacted the Texas Exes to ask us to share his family’s story with alumni.

“I graduated from The University of Texas in 1972, and it was the great adventure of my life,” Brian says. “So if you can share this with Texas Exes and encourage them to donate, it would mean a lot.”

Friends and family started a fundraising page for Patrick and Jess. On Tuesday, the page crashed under heavy traffic, and it’s now raised more than $400,000 for the couple’s medical expenses. Jess will undergo at least 10 reconstructive surgeries on her foot, and Patrick has had three surgeries so far. Then they’ll face the cost of prostheses, home modifications, and physical therapy.

“I’m just astounded that they’re getting this overwhelming support,” Brian says. “And I know that if they get more donations than they need, they’ll share the money with the other survivors.”

Brian says his son and daughter-in-law are recovering well, each in a different hospital. Against long odds, doctors have been able to keep Jess’ right foot for now. Until Thursday, they’d been barely able to speak due to sedatives and breathing tubes, but relatives had held phones up so they could communicate. Last night, they had their first real phone conversation. “We left the room so they could have that time alone,” Brian says.

In an eerie coincidence, the bombing suspects reportedly attended the same Cambridge high school where Brian and his wife, now retired, worked for decades as a guidance counselor and a special education teacher.

“What I’m thinking about right now is that 99.9 percent of humanity is full of heart and soul and love for their fellow human beings,” Brian says, “and those people saved my son’s life this week.”

Patrick and Jess are in good spirits. “They are compassionate people with an incredible sense of purpose,” Brian says. “You wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but if any two people can make their way through this, it’s them.”

Yesterday, Patrick even told his father that he hopes his experience may help his career. “Dad, maybe this will make me a better psychologist,” he said.

Photos courtesy Brian Downes.


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