A Year Later, Boston Bombing Survivors Living With “Hope, Strength, Optimism”

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Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky have had a lot of good days this year.

There was the day when Jess met her beloved service dog, a loyal black lab named Rescue who can push elevator buttons with his nose. There was the day when the couple moved into a new apartment together, and the day when Patrick finally got a prosthetic leg that fit right. There was the evening when Patrick stepped onto a stage to speak before a rapt audience of doctors and nurses from Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center. And there was Valentine’s Day, when Jess surprised her husband with a goofy flash mob dance that made him laugh and laugh.

There were a lot of bad days, too. A year ago today, Patrick and Jess were newlyweds standing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off. They each lost a leg in the blast, and they’ve since endured more than 10 surgeries each, plus countless hours of grueling rehabilitation, physical therapy, counseling, prosthetics fittings, and strength training. It’s still unclear whether Jess will be able to keep her severely injured right foot. “Recovering is more than a full-time job,” says Patrick’s dad, Brian Downes. “It’s not unusual for them to have three appointments in a day.”

Brian, who graduated from UT in 1972, called the Alcalde last year to tell his son and daughter-in-law’s story and ask for help collecting donations for their medical bills. Patrick and Jess’ story was so widely read that it crashed our site—and Longhorns helped raise more than $880,000 for the couple. “I’m forever grateful,” Brian says, “that our community of support extends all the way from Boston to Texas.”

Jess, a former oncology nurse who hopes to return to nursing in some capacity, has found a new passion in volunteering with NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, the organization that matched her with Rescue. Patrick is a counseling psychology graduate student who was set last year to start an internship in San Francisco. The bombing derailed that plan, but he’s now finishing his doctoral dissertation and plans to apply to internships again.

Ask Brian to describe his son and daughter-in-law’s marriage, and he pauses for a moment. “You know that saying, ‘love is a verb’?” he says. “That’s them. On the bad days, they pick each other up. They’ve shown hope, strength, and optimism beyond what I can fathom.”

On Marathon Monday, Patrick and Jess will join other survivors in pedaling the entire 26.2-mile marathon course on recumbent bicycles. They’ll stand at the finish line again—this time as athletes and survivors, not as victims. “We own the finish line,” said Vice President Joe Biden at today’s memorial service in Boston. “You’re living proof that American can never be defeated.”

For the Downes family and the entire city of Boston, today was a good day and a tough one—the darkest of anniversaries, but also a chance to celebrate a year of survival. Patrick spoke at today’s memorial service, urging: “We all know when historians write about these events, they will tell of the utter devastation … but I also hope they will tell of the unfailing compassion and unity.”

Patrick Downes, left, and Jessica Kensky in an undated photo. Courtesy Team Downes.


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