BOSTON (CBS) – “From the very beginning, I was really humbled and amazed at the outpouring of kindness and support that we got,” said marathon bombing survivor Karen Rand McWatters. “The people in this city really came together and it is really eye opening to really see that there are more goodhearted people than bad.”
Rand was at last year’s Boston Marathon to watch her then boyfriend, Kevin McWatters, cross the finish line. She was severely injured. Her best friend, Krystle Campbell, died. “I still talk to her,” Rand said of Campbell, who she often feels is still with her. “I feel like a terrible thing has happened to me. I lost a leg, but I also lost my friend and it changed me. It made me a more peaceful calm person who really looks at what’s important.”
Rand’s left leg was so badly damaged it had to be amputated below the knee. While her physical pain has mostly subsided, the emotional pain of losing Krystle has not. “I think I have bad dreams and I don’t always remember them and I don’t always know for sure if it is a bad dream directly related to the marathon. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s about Krystle,” she said.
Even though her family has filled in some gaps, she remembers little about the days after the blast. One example, a visit from President Obama and the preparation for it by hospital staff are mostly a blur. “When I could touch my hair I could feel rocks and sticky and it just felt awful. And I can remember that. This is a funny thing I remember. They had to put a trash barrel with a trash bag in it underneath my head so that they had a place when they poured the water for it to go,” she recalled.
Rand praises the staff at Mass General and Spaulding Rehabilitation. A team from MGH is running this year for her and other survivors. “I really hope for them that it’s a healing them for them, too. I hope that through this process as they move on they can see that people like myself are getting better,” she said.
One person who’s certainly helped her get better is a teenager from El Salvador. Back in August, while shopping for bar stools, she and her now husband Kevin learned about Estefania Salinas from the store’s owner. The girl had lost a leg after she was hit by an out of control drag racer. “She suffered traumatic injuries to both of her legs, acid burns all over her body on her face,” Rand said. “She was taken immediately to the hospital where the hospitals there are different. You have to pay. There’s no insurance. You pay for your care.”
The two made it their mission to bring the girl to Boston. She’s now at Shriner’s Hospital, walking with a donated prosthetic and will undergo surgery on her other leg, also damaged in the crash, later this month. “Shriners Hospital has agreed to work with NextStep (Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics) to get her what she needed and NextStep is doing all of her prosthetic care for free and Shiners is actually doing her physical therapy with her prosthetic and any surgeries she’ll need,” Rand said. “It took a lot of people to make sure this could happen.”
As much as Estefania’ inspires Karen, Karen likely inspires her as well. Not only is she walking, she’s managing stairs to and from her third floor apartment she shares with her husband. She says the Boston Department of Public Safety reached out to help make sure her home was safe and accessible. After that, The Home Depot donated the railings along the inside staircase. “This Old House” fixed the stairs on the front porch and while we visited, a crew from S & H Construction worked on a third floor porch to give her a place to more easily sit outside.
On Marathon Monday, Karen will be at home in Somerville as Kevin runs his 12th Boston. This one will be in honor of her. “He said this would be his last one. But he just really needed to finish so he said I have to get back there and to finish and uh, it’s part of his healing. He really needs to say and he says all the time, I’m not going to let them win,” she explained.
And neither is she. As difficult as it may be, she plans to follow the criminal case against Dzhokar Tsarnaev through to the end. “It’s important because those brothers did a terrible thing to hurt people that have never done anything to you. To come into this city and commit a terrorist attack, we need to send a clear message that’s not going to be tolerated,” she said.
This is not a journey she would’ve chosen, but it is one Karen Rand McWatters is learning to embrace. “It’s too bad it did take something terrible to get me to this place, but unfortunately it did. Now that I’m here, I just hope that I just always remember to think about what’s important and concentrate on the things that are important and try to be happy every day. You never when your life is going to change,” she said.
Karen plans to spend the summer in her native Maine and then return to Somerville focused on more charity work, likely at Shriners Hospital. She and Kevin married March 27th.
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