John Odom is coming back, in order to look ahead

John Odom and his wife Karen attended a flag-raising ceremony at Boston Medical Center Monday.
David L Ryan/Globe Staff
John Odom and his wife Karen attended a flag-raising ceremony at Boston Medical Center Monday.

John Odom will be at the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, leaning on his cane. After the year he has had, he knew he had to make the 3,000-mile trek from his home in California to cheer on the runners.

“We all dwell on what happened,” he said. “But I would rather look forward to where we’re going.”

Odom, 66, who had both legs pierced by shrapnel at last year’s Marathon bombings, will be among the many survivors descending on Boston for a week of official remembrances and informal reunions with the EMTs, firefighters, and police officers who stanched their bleeding and the doctors and nurses who helped them heal.


On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden will lead a ceremony with survivors at the Hynes Convention Center, followed by a flag-raising and a moment of silence at the finish line. It is a moment many thought they would never live to see.

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Odom, who was at the finish line last year to watch his daughter race, suffered two severed arteries, one in each leg. He lost so much blood that his heart stopped beating twice.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it when I was laying on the streets there in Boston,” he said.

When he was brought to Boston Medical Center, Odom was “technically dead,” said his vascular surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Kalish, who helped stop the bleeding. Odom was on life-support for 10 days, unconscious and in critical condition for 2½ weeks.

“In the beginning, I would say to them every day, ‘Just tell me he’s going to make it,’ ” Odom’s wife, Karen, said at a press conference Monday at Boston Medical Center. “And they couldn’t do that. They didn’t know that. And then when they did know he was going to make it, they didn’t know what making it was going to look like. They didn’t know if he had brain damage.”


Odom said he remembers nothing until he awoke one night, in a dark room at the hospital. He could not move, he said, but he could hear noises.

“I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was alive.”

Over the next several weeks, he underwent 11 surgeries. Doctors were not sure he would walk again.

But nearly two months after the bombings, three therapists at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital helped him grab ahold of parallel bars. He started crying. He was learning to walk again.

He remained at Spaulding until September, when he and his wife finally returned to California, the last of the bombing victims to go home. Life is different now, he said, “our new normal.”


He and Karen have danced together again. He is back on the golf course. But he has not been able to run yet, and is adjusting, he said, to life with a disability.

As this year’s Marathon drew near, he was faced with the wrenching question of whether to return to the place where he nearly lost his life. Odom said he felt it was important to come back, to thank his medical team and to salute the runners.

“I think one of the things I have learned since then — and I’m going to be very honest with you — is there are more good people in this world than bad people,” he said. “And there’s more love and prayers that I received when I was here, and I think I’ve learned now that, going forward, you can’t let things like this get in your way and stop you from going forward and living life.”

On Monday, he and Karen Odom were at Boston Medical Center for a flag-raising ceremony attended by hundreds of cheering hospital staff.

“It’s a miracle that I’m here and I’m so thankful to this man right here,” Odom said, putting an arm around Kalish after the ceremony. “He’s part of our family now,” Odom said, laughing. “We adopted him.”

Kalish said that while treating Odom and other Marathon survivors was challenging, it was also emotional in a way surgeons are sometimes loath to admit.

“The entire world wanted these patients to become survivors,” he said. “It takes a toll on the staff. Usually, there’s not that spotlight.”

Odom was buoyant as he spoke, even boasting that, despite permanent nerve damage in his leg, “honestly, I’m hitting a golf ball straight.”

But when he was asked about one of the accused bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, he said that was one subject he did not want to discuss.

“Who? Who?” Odom said, pretending not to hear the question from a reporter. “I don’t even want to talk about it.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.