For nearly eight weeks, they have done the hard, slow work of healing physically and emotionally in private, surrounded by loved ones, buoyed by the compassion and generosity of strangers. But they remained behind the scenes.
On Friday, Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky Downes, whose story as critically injured newlyweds resonated so widely, addressed the public for the first time in a heartfelt expression of gratitude to thousands. “As we struggled through the initial days after the Boston Marathon attacks and then began the long road to recovery, we have known every moment that we are blessed with enormous support,” the couple wrote. “There are simply no words adequate to express how we feel. But we will try.”
They thanked their families and they thanked the strangers who first came to their aid on Boylston Street, the emergency responders who brought them swiftly and safely to the hospital, the doctors and caregivers who kept them alive and tended to them. They thanked everyone who has provided support — friends, friends of friends, people they know, and people they may never meet, rooting for them around the world.
“At a time when it would be easy to despair, we have chosen faith and hope. Each of you has played a role in that,” they wrote, posting their letter to a crowd-funding page that friends set up in the first days after learning that each had lost a leg.
The site took on a life of its own that first week, the accompanying character sketches and pictures of Jess and Patrick rippling around the Internet, propelled by cousins and classmates and co-workers and cascading from there. In three days, 7,500 people clicked the “give now” button, contributing $500,000.
Ethan Austin, a cofounder of GiveForward.com, had not seen anything like it. “This was a couple that had just touched so many souls, and so many people wanted to help,” he said.
Not that Jessica and Patrick had any idea that first week, beginning to emerge from the haze of trauma and surgery at separate hospitals across town.
Suddenly they were something they never expected to be: not just victims of a terror attack but symbols and touchstones, their story moving strangers to cry and pray and rally around them. People who were trying to make sense of senseless violence, people who wanted to help a couple who seemed so likable and familiar. All the while, Patrick and Jessica and their close circle tried to adapt to their new life.
The donations continue to come in, along with deeply personal notes; by Friday more than 13,000 contributors had given $842,000. And a Facebook page that began with friends posting get-well videos and photos has swelled to include messages from celebrities as varied as LL Cool J, Dustin Pedroia, and Fran Drescher, from students at Lawrence’s Central Catholic High School — they had given their spring breaks to Habitat for Humanity, like Patrick had at Boston College — even from the Sacramento Kings dancers.
“Though the enormity of the tragedy that befell our beloved city took precious lives, harmed hundreds, and irrevocably changed our collective future, this reality is offset by the outpouring of kindness, generosity, and love,” the couple wrote in Friday’s letter. “There is evidence at every turn that we are not alone. Thank you; you have lifted our spirits.”
Already the Downeses were attuned to the needs of others; she is a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, he is a grad student in clinical psychology who had recently accepted a postdoctoral internship to work with children and teens in San Francisco, the couple poised in April for a cross-country move.
Being patients, they wrote, “has deepened our appreciation for those who have helped us make it to this point. . . . Thank you to our caregivers; you have helped heal our bodies and our hearts.”
Reunited now at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, they acknowledged a difficult and uncertain road ahead, asking for continued privacy.
“We can, however, share with you how happy we are to finally be together at Spaulding,” they wrote, “where compassionate, expert care continues to help us prepare for our future. Loving each other as we do, we are committed to each other’s recovery and renewal.”Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.