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Epsom family injured in Boston Marathon bombings finds strength through kindness

  • Ron and Karen Brassard, along with their daughter Krystara (not pictured) were all injured by the first bomb at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. After spending over a week in the hospital, Ron returned to their Epsom home two days ago.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Ron and Karen Brassard, along with their daughter Krystara (not pictured) were all injured by the first bomb at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. After spending over a week in the hospital, Ron returned to their Epsom home two days ago.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Ron and Karen Brassard, along with their daughter Krystara (not pictured) were all injured by the first bomb at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. After spending over a week in the hospital, Ron returned to their Epsom home two days ago.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Ron and Karen Brassard, along with their daughter Krystara (not pictured) were all injured by the first bomb at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. After spending over a week in the hospital, Ron returned to their Epsom home two days ago.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Ron and Karen Brassard, along with their daughter Krystara (not pictured) were all injured by the first bomb at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. After spending over a week in the hospital, Ron returned to their Epsom home two days ago.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Ron and Karen Brassard, along with their daughter Krystara (not pictured) were all injured by the first bomb at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. After spending over a week in the hospital, Ron returned to their Epsom home two days ago.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

When an ear-splitting explosion went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Ron Brassard started to run. He needed to make sure his wife Karen, daughter Krystara and her friend were safe, so they started running away from the blasts, toward a store where he had purchased water earlier.

He knew something was wrong with his leg, but the rush of adrenaline was masking just how badly he was injured. When they got close to the storefront, he finally looked down. That’s when fear began to sink in: He saw blood, lots of blood, spraying and shooting out of his leg like water rushing from a fire hydrant.

“I just turned around to Karen – and I thought I was being very calm at this point because I let it process in my head – I turned around and I said ‘I’m going to lay down, and I’m going to elevate my leg, and I need you to find someone to stop the bleeding.’ And she just looked at me and she said, ‘That’s what I’ve been saying to you!’ ” he said.

Amid the noise and his focus on his family, he’d tuned her out.

All three Brassards are now back at their home in Epsom, each recovering from injuries of different severity. They were at the marathon with another family to watch a friend run the race and were standing about 10 feet from the site of the first explosion. Ron, who sustained the most serious injuries, was released from the hospital Wednesday after three surgeries, including a skin graft to patch up a giant chunk taken from his inner right leg. Karen had two surgeries to deal with shrapnel wounds on her ankle and calf. Krystara had small bits of shrapnel all down her legs and an ankle injury.

It took just five minutes on Boylston Street for their lives to change forever. It will take at least four to six weeks for Ron to know if the skin graft took, and he doesn’t know yet if the nerve damage in his foot will heal. Right now, he’s in a wheelchair because he can’t put any pressure on his leg. The family is dealing with complex feelings of

guilt because a friend they were with lost both of her legs. But the bombing has also brought out the goodness in people, from the young man who helped stifle Ron’s bleeding and is now a good friend, to the 12-year-old kid from Minnesota who donated $75 to the family. Because of those people, Ron says, the bombing has changed the family for the better.

A deafening blast

Like Ron, Karen said she didn’t really understand her injuries at first. She just remembers a deafening blast and an instinctive move to protect her family.

“I felt something hit my legs, but I didn’t really pay attention to it. I didn’t feel it other than to feel the impact of something, but even at that it wasn’t painful,” she said. “Krystara said she experienced the same thing, she had injuries to her legs, (but) never knew it.”

That’s because both were too concerned with Ron’s injuries to focus on their own. Krystara got her friend, who had an injured ankle, into the nearby storefront, then immediately went back out to help Ron, who was now lying on the ground. Karen tried to stop the bleeding with her sweater, but it wasn’t working.

It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes before two men ran to Ron’s side to help, but fear still flashed through his mind.

“Because I saw how fast that blood was going out, and I just said I’m in big trouble here if nobody stops and helps, but of course people were there instantaneously,” he said.

Those people were Rob Wheeler and Everett Spain, both of whom had just completed the race and heard Krystara yelling for help as she held her father’s leg. Seeing his daughter scared for his safety was painful, Ron said, and he wanted someone to take over so she could leave the scene. Wheeler took his race shirt off and immediately tied it around Ron’s leg to stop the bleeding. Spain helped calm Krystara down and told her to stop grabbing her father’s leg and that everything would be okay.

“She kind of snapped me out of my fear a little bit because she was just yelling, ‘Please help, come and help, come and help, please don’t let him die, please don’t let him die,’ and then I just changed right back into that protective parent again because you just can’t, you can’t see your child have that much pain, especially when you know it’s you that’s causing it,” Ron said.

Two separate hospitals

Wheeler and Spain helped get Ron into a wheelchair, and Wheeler held his leg all the way to the ambulance. When Ron was in the ambulance and on his way to Tufts Medical Center, Karen could finally start focusing on her own injuries. She was taken to Boston Medical Center, along with Krystara.

Karen and Ron wouldn’t see each other until Karen was released April 18. The doctors had made plans to move her to Tufts, but complications with the shrapnel in her thigh meant she needed surgery. She spoke with Ron on the phone later that day, and when she saw him giving an interview on TV she began to cry.

“It was difficult,” Ron said. “I mean, it’s difficult to go through the most emotional thing in your entire life and your best friend and your partner is not with you.”

Over at Tufts, Ron underwent three procedures within five days. Luckily, the surgeon told Ron, the artery that was destroyed is one that surgeons sometimes transfer to other parts of the body, meaning it is not essential to blood flow through the leg.

When Karen was released from the hospital, she immediately went to Tufts Medical, where she stayed in a family room until Ron was ready for discharge. Krystara returned to her dorm room at Northeastern University, where she studies criminal justice. The two weren’t going to leave the city without Ron.

Adjustments, and
a new friendship

Coming to terms with what happened, as well as the guilt they feel, has not been easy. When Ron was first in the hospital, he thought he’d be out right away. The two, who have been married for 25 years, were supposed to fly to Aruba on April 19 for a two-week vacation, and Ron was thinking he’d still be able to go. When they did come home, they had to make some immediate adjustments. Ron got a wheelchair so he could move around the house and didn’t have to sit in an uncomfortable position on the coach all day. They also put a handrail alongside their staircase.

Another part of their new reality is a friendship with Wheeler, the college student who helped Ron. The family was able to connect with him after they saw him on the news, saying he was looking for the man he helped save. On Thursday, he visited Ron in the hospital, and a few days later he attended a Red Sox game with Karen, Krystara and the Brassards’ son, who was not in Boston during the marathon. Wheeler has also invited the family to his college graduation this year. The family also met Spain, Ron’s other helper.

Friends have created several accounts to raise money for the family, including one at gofundme.com/Brassard-Family. Ron’s sister has been personally responding to all donors, but there is one Karen plans on doing herself: A 12-year-old boy who donated $75. He said he had been looking for something important to spend his allowance on and this was it. When Ron is feeling ready, the two plan to sit together at the kitchen table and get started on a long list of thank-you notes.

April 15 was a day that brought unimaginable horror on the Brassards and many others. But the outpouring of kindness that came after it has overshadowed the bad. The Brassards aren’t paying attention to what’s on television; they don’t want to talk or think about the bombers. Instead, they want to focus on the good that has come into their lives and will help them through a lengthy recovery process.

“I’ve been saying my life is absolutely changed going forward, and it’s changed for the better,” Ron said. “And people look at me odd, because I was just in a bombing and have these severe injuries and so on and so forth, but seeing how people have responded to us has just been incredible.”

Donations can also be made to the Brassard Family Fund at the TD Bank at 1886 Dover Road in Epsom or to the Brassard Fund at Triangle Credit Union at 33 Franklin St., Nashua.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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