EPSOM, N.H.— Ron and Karen Brassard had never been to the Boston Marathon before, and were looking forward to the outing with their longtime friends, Celeste and Kevin Corcoran. Both couples had their daughters with them: Krystara Brassard, 20, and Sydney Corcoran, 18. They were going to watch Celeste’s sister, Carmen Accabo, run her first marathon.
The couples first met for lunch at Stephanie’s on Newbury, then the men went to grab a beer and watch the Red Sox on TV while the women window-shopped. Eventually, they all headed over to Boylston Street with handmade signs for Accabo that read “GO CARMEN, GO!” and “Congratulations, CARMEN!”
“I had stayed up late, putting beads on them so she would see them since they sparkled,” says Karen Brassard. “We were all so excited. It was such a great day.”
The photos in her cellphone tell the rest of the story. The first one, taken by their daughter, shows the Brassards happily standing near the finish line, holding the signs. In the next frame — a Boston Globe photograph later sent to her by friends — Ron is on his back on the sidewalk. Shrapnel had carved a chunk out of his left leg, and he had a severed artery and nerve damage. At Tufts Medical Center, a skin graft was taken from his left thigh to help rescue his damaged left shin and calf, which he mercifully would be able to keep.
“Our first trip to the Marathon made an impression,” Ron says wryly. “A permanent one.” He may have lost his mobility, for now, but not his sense of humor.
With three surgeries apiece behind him and his wife, who are both 51, Ron is confined to a reclining chair in the sunny living room of the couple’s home overlooking Northwood Lake. His left leg is bandaged and must remain elevated. He’s wearing shorts and a Boston Strong T-shirt that reads: “Wrong City to Mess With.”
There are only two pairs of crutches nearby — Krystara graduated from hers — along with Ron’s wheelchair, and Karen’s knee scooter, a wheeled device that allows her to move around the home more easily. She sits on the couch, her left leg in a partial cast, propped up on a pillow on the coffee table. She has just returned from another set of tests and procedures the day before, and she rubs her leg periodically.
The blast sent a pipe-like piece of the bomb into her ankle. “It was nickel-sized, hollow, and it was protruding about an inch out,” Karen says. After doctors removed it at Boston Medical Center, an FBI agent dropped it into an evidence bag.
She also had a three-inch piece of the device embedded in her right shin; doctors sliced both sides of her leg to extract it. They removed a section of a healthy tendon to repair a damaged one. There have been complications, and she was back in the hospital twice last week.
Krystara had shrapnel wounds from her hips to her ankles. In photos in Karen’s cellphone, she looks like she has a bad case of chicken pox. She bears some scars, but on a recent day was lying out on the dock, soaking up the sun.
Despite all, the Brassards feel lucky. As Ron puts it: “If you’re going to be in a bombing, we were in the best spot: 50 yards from the medical tent and a half-mile from the best hospitals in the country.”
When the first bomb exploded, Ron's instincts, and adrenaline, took over: He had to get his wife and daughter, and her friend, to safety. He began hobbling with them toward Sugar Heaven, a candy store where he had bought a bottle of water just minutes earlier.
“I looked down and blood was just pouring out of the bottom of my pants leg, like a garden hose,” he says.
He could go no further, and lay down. Krystara, with her own shrapnel and a dislocated ankle, was screaming, “Help my dad! Please don’t let him die!” That, says Ron, was his worst memory of the day. “I could see the anguish in her face, and she was clutching my leg and saying, ‘Do you promise you’re going to be OK?’ ”
Another lucky moment: Rob Wheeler had just completed the Marathon, took off his jersey, and tied it in a tourniquet around Ron’s leg. Another runner, Everett Spain, did the same.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that saved Ron’s life,” says Karen. “He would have bled out.”
Karen and Krystara were put in the same ambulance. In the emergency room, Karen got a text from a doctor at Tufts that he had her husband and was taking good care of him. “I was so relieved, I knew he was in good hands,” she says.
When she was discharged from the hospital on April 18, she went straight to Tufts and was allowed to stay in a family room down the hall from her husband, who was released April 24. “I wasn’t going home without him,” she says.
Despite their serious injuries, and the long road ahead of them, the Brassards have a touch of survivors’ guilt. At the Marathon, they were standing right next to their close friends the Corcorans. Celeste, a hairdresser, lost both of her legs in the blast, and her daughter, Sydney, had a serious leg injury.
And Krystara’s Northeastern classmate, Victoria McGrath, who had joined them near the finish line five minutes earlier, was badly injured, too.
“It’s hard to see Cel,” says Karen, referring to Celeste, who grew up across the street from Ron Brassard in Lowell. “It’s the sorrow I feel. Why am I OK, and she, standing right beside me, isn’t? We’re both moms, we both have our two kids, and I’m okay.” Karen wipes tears from her eyes.
“You’re not OK,” her husband says softly. He adds: “It’s random. It’s what happened.”
When Karen saw Celeste Corcoran at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, she says, it was Celeste who tried to comfort her, saying, “You know what? It’s OK.”
Says Karen: “She’s incredibly strong. I love her so much.”
The Brassards say they are overwhelmed at the support from friends and strangers. An online fund-raiser for them (gofundme.com/Brassard-fund) even drew a $75 donation from a 12-year-old boy in Missouri who wrote: “I’ve been saving my money for something important, and I think this is it.”
On May 7, Ron, in a wheelchair and dressed in a Red Sox jersey with “Brassard” on the back, threw out the first pitch of the Minnesota Twins game at Fenway Park.
There will be more medical expenses as the couple heal. Ron was let go when the fire protection company he worked at for 31 years downsized, and had just started to look for a job when he was injured.
“My doctors tell me to take it one day at a time,” he says, “but that’s not my speed.”
On Sunday, they’ll attend a fund-raiser at Napa East restaurant in Nashua for their family, the Corcorans, and Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the blast. Red Sox Hall of Famer Rico Petrocelli and comedian Lenny Clarke will be there.
The Brassards will be a little late. First, they’re going to see Rob Wheeler graduate from Framingham State University. He’s the young man who helped save Ron’s life.Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.