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THE PHYSICAL THERAPIST

Physical therapist takes a cue from her patient

Physical therapist Laura Driscoll made a special connection with a bombing victim.
Physical therapist Laura Driscoll made a special connection with a bombing victim.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

They correspond almost every day.

Texts, Facebook messages, and a phone call here and there.

So when the phone rang in January, it was nothing unusual. A chance for two friends to convey their day’s happenings, share feelings and, as always, inject eerily similar humor-filled barbs to provoke laughter and lighten emotionally intense moments.

In her typical, nonchalant delivery, 30-year-old Erika Brannock, a preschool teacher from Maryland who was injured by the first bomb while waiting for her mother, Carol Downing, to complete last year’s Boston Marathon, posed a serious question to the person she lovingly calls “one of my guardian angels.”

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Would 37-year-old Laura Driscoll, Brannock’s physical therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, run this year’s marathon using one of the two numbers Brannock was given as a survivor?

“My first response was, ‘Wow, that’s a huge honor, Erika,’ ” recalled Driscoll, who acknowledged that she nearly succumbed to her emotions. “Erika went on to say, ‘Mom really wants you at the starting line with her.’

“I was like, ‘Of course.’ ”

Though Driscoll had completed triathlons and a few half-marathons, she had always sworn off marathons.

“I don’t think I need to do that,” she had said.

Driscoll was content to take her five-to-seven-mile jogs. She hated being cold, a prerequisite to training for Boston, and harbored a deep-seated fear about whether she could finish a marathon, especially one of the toughest.

That was before she met Brannock, who had multiple surgeries to amputate her left leg above the knee and a metal rod inserted into her right leg.

For more than 12 years, Driscoll had helped critically injured patients through their most basic recoveries: getting out of bed and completing daily tasks.

But never someone around the same age and so physically affected.

“I’m usually pretty good about putting a guard up when I’m working with somebody who’s had a devastating illness or injury,” said Driscoll, who lives in Roslindale. “If not, then what am I doing?

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“But in this case, Erika touched my heart. You’d walk in the room and that girl was smiling at all times from the first day on.”

Driscoll was demanding, though. She challenged Brannock with tough love to reach another level in her rehabilitation.

“She definitely pushed me way more than I was thinking my physical therapist was going to,” Brannock said. “She had this no-nonsense attitude of, ‘we’re going to get you up and get you better.’

“But she connected with me on a personal level, too. Got to know my likes and dislikes, and [when she] found out I was a preschool teacher . . . on her day off she brought in her twins, who were 2 at the time, to see me. She could tell I really needed that interaction. She sensed the things I needed and worked really hard at keeping my spirits up and became an amazing friend.”

They would discuss Brannock’s students, Driscoll’s three boys, or debate whether Driscoll’s New England Patriots could defeat Brannock’s beloved Baltimore Ravens.

Driscoll also nudged Downing to resume running. It is why Downing wants Driscoll beside her in Hopkinton.

“After the bombing — with both my daughters [Brannock and Nicole Gross] severely injured — I struggled with the motivation to run,” Downing said. “Laura encouraged me to run and reminded me how good it would make me feel. It was her support that made me feel OK about running.”

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If not for the bombings, Driscoll and Brannock might not have met.

Perhaps a friendship would have developed inside a suburban Boston school, as they both hypothesized; Brannock moving north because “she likes the accent,” according to Driscoll, and teaching one of Driscoll’s boys.

But Driscoll definitely would not be running Boston had they not met . Not this year. Not ever.

“When I think about how hard she worked for me every time I walked into that room for the 50 days she was at our hospital,” Driscoll said, “and how hard she works every day of her life just to find a new normal, I can get up and run in the snow.”


Paul Lazdowski can be reached at pmlazdowski@gmail.com