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Amid death and anguish of bombing, a gift of life

Couple, Marathon bombing victims, kept their news a Father’s Day surprise

Caroline Reinsch and Christian Williams were seriously injured in the Boston Marathon bombings.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Caroline Reinsch and Christian Williams were seriously injured in the Boston Marathon bombings.

After all the chaos and fear on Boylston Street, Caroline Reinsch wondered if she heard the question right. The blast had perforated her eardrums and punched a bloody hole in her thigh all the way to the femur, splitting the quad muscle. “Is there a possibility you are pregnant?” the X-ray technician asked, standing over her gurney.

The question hung in the air at the Faulkner Hospital. A routine one for women of childbearing age undergoing treatment, it seemed almost cruel to Reinsch in that moment, when all she was thinking about was whether her boyfriend, Christian Williams, was going to live. She was 39, he was 41, and they had been trying to conceive since last fall without any luck. Now she wondered if they ever would.

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“Possibly. But probably not,” she told the technician, who shielded her womb anyway.

It took 11 days until she had healed enough from the surgeries to be released, leaving with a bulky leg brace and wounds that needed constant redressing, the thigh where they harvested the skin graft hurting even more than the thigh ripped open by the blast. The first place she went was Beth Israel, for an emotional reunion with Williams — the two of them in tears, the nurses crying, too. He survived but was nowhere near release, and doctors were still working to save his right leg.

She had tamped down any thoughts of pregnancy until her iPhone rang a few days later. It was her regular doctor, going over her discharge file from the Faulkner, all of it seeming familiar. Then the doctor paused.

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“Did they give you a pregnancy test?” she asked.

“Not that I know of,” Reinsch said.

Well, the doctor replied, hospital records showed a “slight positive” for pregnancy. It meant there was a slight chance, but that it was too early to tell.

“You might want to take a home pregnancy test,” the doctor said.

Afraid to get hopes up

That afternoon she went shopping with her aunt, but her mind wasn’t really on the racks of dresses loose enough to fit over her brace. She kept thinking about what the doctor said, and about the one unused pregnancy test she still had in a drawer in her condo back on Beacon Street.

She had been late once over the winter, in the bleakness after the death of her older brother from diabetes, but the hope of a pregnancy had dissolved into the realization that it was just stress, after her period returned. She looked down at the stick now, and what she saw seemed like a taunt: Positive.

Impossible, she thought, refusing to acknowledge such fragile evidence. How could she get her hopes up when every part of her felt exhausted, when she had to spend 20 hours a day in the brace and the other four locked into a torturous stretching device, and when Christian was so badly hurt? She wished she had taken a different test, a more reliable brand, one that hadn’t been gathering dust in the drawer. She could not even go out to get another on her own, unable to take the stairs without help.

Happiness shattered

That Reinsch and Williams had connected at all seemed a kind of miracle. She was going through a divorce at 36, childless, but nowhere near thinking she was ready to date again, focused on her career at John Hancock.

He had spent his 20s wandering the country, framing houses, trying a shirt-and-tie job, bartending, writing, plumbing, you name it, before discovering that the art portfolio he’d been honing for years — coupled with his varied experience and creative energy — made him a perfect fit for advertising. Freelancing or working for a firm, he could live anywhere; at the moment it was Maryland, but California loomed in his imagination. A Lakeville native, he passed through Boston to visit his sister. He met Reinsch, one of his sister’s good friends from work, out at a bar, and suddenly home seemed a lot more attractive.

Williams was struck by Reinsch’s worldliness, by her laugh and beauty. She liked his emotional honesty. He didn’t like running, but offered to train for a Marathon with her.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Williams was struck by Reinsch’s worldliness, by her laugh and beauty. She liked his emotional honesty. He didn’t like running, but offered to train for a Marathon with her.

He was struck by her worldliness and easy laugh, her effortless beauty. She was struck by his emotional honesty, something she’d never found before. He knew how to fix things. And for both of them, after all these years it just felt right.

Soon they were going for picnics in Copley Square, taking long walks with his rescue dogs, and puttering around on the 20-foot boat he called the Sunset Bandit. She loved it and loved him.

He volunteered to train for a Boston Marathon with her, even though he loathed running, just to be with her.

“When you’re around her,” he says, “you can’t help but feel like things are going to turn out right.”

This year, they went just to cheer on friends. They picked a spot under the green-and-red Portuguese flag — he is part-Portuguese — in the long row of banners at the finish.

The bomb blew him into a tangle of bodies. His legs and right hand were ripped open and bled profusely. She put pressure on one of his wounds and on her own at the same time and pleaded with him to stay awake. Soon they were being whisked away, in separate wheelchairs, to separate hospitals.

For 11 days, they texted and talked by phone, but it was hard to really know how the other was doing, between the morphine and the visitors and the coming and going of doctors and nurses.

When Reinsch got released a friend drove her immediately to see Williams, who was coming out of his sixth surgery. He knew she would be there and was gushing to the nurse, and soon he was crying and the nurse was crying as she pushed him back to his room.

He felt like he was at the airport, going down the longest trip through security and the terminal and the jetbridge ever, until he saw her in the doorway of his room, limping toward him, and it felt inside like he was taking flight.

A gift of life confirmed

It was Wednesday, 16 days after the Marathon. Reinsch stepped into a hospital restroom down the hall from her boyfriend’s room. Not 24 hours had passed since her doctor called and she had stared disbelievingly at the indicator on the pregnancy test in her bathroom, but it seemed much longer.

Her hands shaking, she unwrapped another test that a friend had brought for her — one that hadn’t been sitting in a drawer, a brand she trusted. She would believe this one.

She followed the steps she had so often followed before and studied the indicator. The result showed positive, and she wept for a long moment in the sterile fluorescent light. Then she composed herself, went to sit in a chair by her boyfriend’s bed and leaned gently against him.

Each time she visited him so far, she had brought him magazines or food. Today she appeared to come empty-handed. Then she reached into the pocket of her skirt. “I have something for you,” she said, drawing out the plastic stick.

Everything changed after that. In the weeks that followed, he says, he has never felt such joy. They went for picnics, took gingerly walks, read up on pregnancy and parenthood.

She still must wear the brace, and his legs and hands are gnarled and scarred. But doctors have marveled at how fast they are healing.

They’ve told only a few people about the pregnancy, waiting for this weekend — Father’s Day and Williams’s 42d birthday — to reveal it more widely.

They wanted it to be a surprise, a gift to their families from amid the horror and suffering of April 15.

They no longer have to try not to remember that day or the terrible days that followed, they said. “Any pain or suffering I felt has been replaced with joy,” Williams said. “Discovering that I was going to be a father is how I’ll always remember the Marathon.”

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.
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