Air Force Captain Adam Davis spent the winter in Afghanistan, returning to Boston in late March without a scratch. “I didn’t even see anyone get injured in Afghanistan,” says Davis.
But two weeks later, on a nice spring day in Boston, both he and his wife would be seriously injured in the Marathon bombings. Adrianne Haslet, a dance instructor, lost part of her left leg. Shrapnel cut a nerve and artery in Davis’s left foot. His right foot, also peppered with shrapnel, required a skin graft from his thigh to repair torn skin and muscle. He had a perforated eardrum.
In an interview in their Seaport apartment building, the couple spoke of the day that started out so beautifully and ended so brutally. After being separated for nearly five months by his deployment, Davis and Haslet were happy to be out and about on Patriots Day, having lunch and shopping in the Back Bay. She had been to Boylston Street to watch the Marathon last year and was eager to share it with her husband.
“We didn’t have anyone specifically to cheer on,” says Haslet, 32. “We were just going to cheer the runners and then go back to shopping.” Then they heard an explosion. “We grabbed each other,” she recalls. “We landed in sort of a pretzel.”
They both screamed. “I never want to hear that again, because I know it's pure terror,” Haslet says . They were covered with blood. “We didn’t know what was coming from me, and what was coming from him.”
Davis, 33, meanwhile, could see what his wife could not: Her left heel had been blown away.
Haslet had the presence of mind to scream, and crawl, for help. “I thought, I’ve got to be brave, or I’m either going to go into shock, or die. Adrenaline got us into the restaurant and then we collapsed.” They made it into Forum, where help finally arrived.
As they recount their story, the couple, who married four years ago, sit like newlyweds, holding hands. Davis occasionally rubs his wife’s wounded leg. His own left leg was in a knee-high medical boot, his right ankle bandaged. There’s a large square, scarlet splotch on his right thigh, where skin was removed for the graft. He has graduated from wheelchair and walker to crutches.
Haslet, who has taught 20 different types of dance at Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Boston, is now relying on a combination of wheelchair, walker, and crutches.
Since the bombings, her parents have been here from Seattle to help. It was her mother who broke the news to her, at Boston Medical Center, that she no longer had a left foot.
“I asked her to help me move my foot, and she said, ‘Adrianne, you don’t have a foot anymore.’ I got angry,” she says. “I punched pillows, threw a water bottle, threw sheets around.”
Doctors had amputated her left foot and then decided the lower leg couldn’t be saved, either. Haslet still finds reason to be grateful. “They decided because of my dancing, they kept a lot of my calf muscle, so I’m very happy,” she says, adding that she is eager to be fitted for a prosthetic so she can start dancing again.
She’s been dancing since she was a child: “My grandfather called me wiggle worm because I wouldn’t sit still.”
But she’s a little put out with herself because she recently took a painful spill on her injured leg. Like a lot of amputees, she says, she sometimes forgets that her leg is gone. “I was being stupid and went to get out of a chair without a crutch and went straight down. I do have moments when I say, ‘Oh my God, where’s my foot?’ ”
The yellowing bruise is nothing compared with the excruciating pain that immediately followed the bombing. When her husband applied his belt to her leg in a tourniquet, she told him and other helpers to pull it “tighter, tighter, pull it till it chops [the leg] off,” she recalls. “I just wanted that pain to end.”
The dance community has responded with fund-raisers for the couple — and even an invitation for her to appear on “Dancing With The Stars” on ABC. “They invited me to dance on their stage when I’m feeling better,” says Haslet, her face beaming. “I freaked out.”
The couple knows that their lives have changed, that, as she puts it: “We’re finding the new normal.” But they feel their relationships — marriage, family, and friends — have created a solid foundation for healing.
“Just spending more time with the people you love, as cheesy as it sounds, is what will greatly improve your health,” says Haslet.
Still, there’s frustration that their independence has been curbed, at least for now. “We’re a couple in our 30s and now we’re having to have our parents take care of us,” says Davis.
His wife nods and adds: “My mom had to help me put on my jacket the other day.”
They plan to take what comes in stages: first walking, then running, then dancing.
Their goal is to run the Marathon, perhaps next year. “We’ll have a lot of support, people who will do it with us,” says Davis. “The sooner, the better.”
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.