In the first days after the bombing, the money seemed to come in on the fund-raising site for Brittany Loring faster than they could refresh the page, $10 here, $500 there, donations from friends and friends of friends, and from strangers halfway around the world who felt compelled to help.
From her hospital bed, as the tally approached $100,000, Loring struggled to make sense of it, just as she struggled with the notion that one moment she’d been enjoying her 29th birthday near the finish line, and the next she was here: in a trauma center, riddled with shrapnel, her skull fractured, her hand bandaged, alive in no small part because a stranger on Boylston Street had bound the long, deep gash across her left leg with a jacket and held tight.
When Loring was too anxious or uncomfortable to sleep, her sister or fiancé would read the messages posted with the donations, which always helped. So did the cards from school children in California; the purple blanket crocheted by a classmate’s mother; the visits from wounded Marines who were walking, running, even joking again.
But she couldn’t take the money, she told her family, and they knew it was more than the painkillers talking. This was Brittany, who had organized a blood drive as a teen growing up in Ayer and taught English at an orphanage in Thailand after college. The day before the Marathon she had given her Sunday to Belle of the Ball, helping low-income teens pick out gently used prom dresses, jewelry, and shoes.
Her dad insisted she take the money. She was a student with no income, a month from graduation with a joint law degree and master’s in business. Beyond not knowing when she would walk again, doctors didn’t know how long it would be until she could read and think clearly, making the summer bar exam and her fall start date as a tax associate uncertain. They did not know what her insurance would cover, or how much she might get from the One Fund, the major charity assisting victims.
So Loring acquiesced, after her dad, Dan, put it like this: when you get to the other side, then you can start giving back. And then, craving something he could dig into amid the crying and waiting in the hospital, he set out to reserve a domain name — brittanyfund.org — and establish a foundation.
They knew already what they would eventually do: Help people who had also been blindsided by trauma, but not the kind that generated a flood of supportive notes or donations from strangers.
A fund takes shape
More than a year and a half had passed when the three women gathered in a hospital lobby on Christmas Eve 2014, carrying the first check written by the Brittany Fund for Trauma and Recovery, wondering what they would say to the young mother upstairs in the surgical ICU and the family at her bedside.
Together they represented half of the nascent fund’s six-member volunteer board: Brittany Loring; her sister Alyssa Loring Tirella, 18 months younger; and Hafsa LaBreche, then 28, the mystery woman who helped stanch Loring’s wounds and calm her during those critical minutes on Boylston Street.
Covered in blood but unharmed, LaBreche — who had completed an EMT course while considering a medical career after college — could not stop thinking about the woman she had helped, though she did not even know her last name. When they finally reconnected two weeks later, they talked for nearly four hours.
By September, LaBreche was a guest at Loring’s wedding, along with three guys who had also assisted on Boylston and become good friends as well.
Loring’s physical recovery had gone better than hoped. Boston College waived her finals, and working daily with nurses and therapists she managed to walk across the stage at graduation that May. She could walk a mile by July and was able to keep her September wedding date with her fiancé, who had spent so many long nights at Boston Medical Center in a chair beside her bed.
Her clarity returned, too. But she was not quite the same — nervous on the bus and fearful of crowds, with a loneliness sometimes that she couldn’t place.
A regular support group of bombing survivors organized through the One Fund helped, as did diving into the Brittany Fund, which Loring decided to focus on survivors of low-profile trauma within driving distance of her Newton home, so she could deliver the aid in person. She partnered with a road race and began raising seed money, and by late that year the fund’s board had identified a first recipient: a young mother who had suffered a spinal injury in a car accident.
Entering an ICU decorated for the holidays, the trio moved through sliding glass doors and then a parted curtain, finding the young woman with her legs elevated, surrounded by buzzing machines, her mother on one side and grandmother on the other. The woman was awake but unable to speak.
Amid that scene, on Christmas Eve, the Loring sisters and LaBreche wondered if they would be able to say anything without crying. But they told the family they weren’t alone, shared some of their story, and presented a check for a few thousand dollars. They wished it was more, but even this could help with some child care or medical supplies or missed paychecks.
They were careful not to overstay, and when they walked out the mother and grandmother followed into the hall to thank them again, visibly moved. Loring and her sister and LaBreche left resolute. They needed to do this again — more of it, more often.
In two-plus years since, the Brittany Fund has given nearly $70,000 to 30 trauma survivors, while raising more still. Loring has delivered 15 of the checks; as the distributions have become more frequent, others have pitched in.
Always it is someone close to Loring’s story: her sister; LaBreche; Ben Foley, the EMT who treated Loring in the ambulance; Mike Sokolowski, one of the guys who helped her on Boylston. The way these things go, Foley is dating one of Loring’s friends, while Sokolowski works in Loring’s dad’s real estate office and sold LaBreche and her husband their home.
At first the board members looked out for news briefs and sorted suggestions that came in by word of mouth. Over time, the fund has evolved to serve mostly patients at Boston Medical Center, brought to their attention by the hospital’s social workers and case managers.
Loring was treated at BMC by chance in 2013, as ambulances fanned out from Boylston Street in every direction. But she already had a personal connection to the region’s largest trauma center; her future mother-in-law worked there as a case manager, and helped Loring’s family navigate that terrifying first day.
As the fund’s recipients have recovered, several have stayed in touch, updating Loring on their progress. Two have already gotten involved raising money for the fund.
Jillian Kaplan, a 34-year-old analyst for Verizon, was out walking her rescue pup before work last August when a distracted driver slammed into her in a Framingham crosswalk, launching Kaplan and her dog in different directions. The impact shattered Kaplan’s face, sternum, and sacrum, and crushed her pelvis; first responders worried about rapid blood loss, and she needed emergency brain surgery. (Her dog, Sydney, landed safely and stayed nearby; police used the number on her tag to call Kaplan’s husband.)
Though Kaplan needed a wheelchair for two months, her rehab hospital said she could go home at five weeks — if she could outfit her house with ramps and equipment her insurance didn’t cover. Meanwhile, she had to front the money for her first big hospital bills, ahead of insurance reimbursement. So she worried she would be unable to come home for another three weeks. The Brittany Fund made the difference.
“They were very wonderful,” said Kaplan, who appreciated the personal visit from LaBreche. “We already had a lot going on, and it was just one less thing to worry about.”
By winter Kaplan had made a substantial recovery and wanted to give back. Recently, she organized a raffle at a fitness event and raised $2,200 for the Brittany Fund. She is thinking of becoming an advocate against distracted driving, and could foresee visiting trauma patients, whether through the Brittany Fund or on her own.
Last weekend the fund held a race-walk in Devens, raising $16,000. In Monday’s Marathon they have five runners with Brittany Fund charity bibs who so far have raised another $41,000-plus; Loring will serve them pasta Sunday before cheering them Monday near Heartbreak Hill.
So much has been done, and yet Loring feels they are just beginning.
A week ago, she visited BMC to give a check to the fund’s latest recipient, not knowing whether she would stay a few minutes or an hour, prepared to read the room and listen. She found the patient’s family had packed in, some driving 90 minutes for Loring’s visit, wanting to hear her story, with its roots in the same hospital.
“I think it does give them hope for their situation,” she said, “knowing that I got through my injuries, I got through my trauma.”Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz.