What would you like people to know about how you are doing or feeling now?
I was a 43 year old practicing family physician and marathon runner from Birmingham, Alabama who finished the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 three seconds before the first bomb went off. It took me over the next eighteen months and numerous physician visits until I fully understood the complexity of my injuries. I had suffered major hearing loss and now wear bilateral hearing aids, Meniere’s disease (abnormal fluid collection in the inner ear) which can cause dizziness and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hyperacusis (abnormal response to sounds), post- traumatic stress disorder, and a mild traumatic brain injury which has impacted my executive functions of working memory and processing speed. I have also learned that many of my injuries have to do with a central auditory processing problem. Over the last five years while focusing on my recovery, I closed my private medical practice, got a divorce because my spouse was not supportive, and I was unable to perform all my medical duties and household responsibilities. We suffered significant financial loss resulting in foreclosure of our family house. Presently I am in a good place. I have accepted my injuries after going through a period of grieving over what was lost. I am now the Medical Director of the Magic City Wellness Center, the first health center in Alabama specifically for the LGBTQ community. I have three wonderful children that now understand what I have gone through. We have regained our closeness to each other and I have an amazing supportive family and friends that have helped me through this ordeal. Life is too short, and I realized that there is a lot of good that I am meant to do during my lifetime.
What would you like to say to the Greater Boston community in regards to the support you received following April 15, 2013?
After the bombings, I was overly impressed with the amount of support I received from the Boston community. As a person living in Alabama, often I felt alone and isolated as I dealt with my recovery. It is ironic that I would want to return to the site that changed my life, but every time I returned to Boston the solidarity was everywhere. The city had Boston Strong signs and blue and yellow ribbons throughout the city. In addition, I became involved with a support group of other survivors at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. The One Fund Boston team, especially Barbara Thorp, who was also extremely helpful in connecting me with resources being made available to survivors. I soon realized my recovery needs were just as important as if I belong to the people in the Boston metro area.
Over the past few years, have you witnessed any acts of kindness on One Boston Day that touched you? If so, what were they and why did you find them meaningful?
I felt turning the day into one of giving back to others was very important especially since so much was done to help me recover by the community of Boston.
Upon the initiation of One Boston Day I participated with other survivors in decorating pencil boxes and getting school supplies together for those less fortunate. I also participated in cleaning up communities in subsequent years. Participating in these events was a wonderful to be with other survivors and helped with my healing process. I felt turning the day into one of giving back to others was very important especially since so much was done to help me recover by the community of Boston. On a day of tragedy to focus on something positive was a great way to continue my process of healing and recovery. It also brought the community together and further emphasized our resilience.
During your recovery, have there been any specific moments that were particularly poignant or meaningful to you?
My connection with the survivor support group at Spaulding was the beginning of my recovery. It removed my isolation from other survivors and created a long-lasting friendship and bond between us. I then decided to help people that were not in the Boston area, by becoming a board member of the Massachusetts Resiliency Center, which was set up as a safe haven and resource to address the needs of the Boston Marathon Bombing Survivor community. I was able to share ways to help many survivors that did not live locally. In addition, giving a victim impact statement at the sentencing trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allowed my voice to be heard. I also have done many lectures talking to other professionals and people regarding hidden and invisible injuries, including what to look for so that others can get properly diagnosed avoiding the delay that I faced in getting help sooner. In January 2016, I joined the Magic City Wellness Center which is Alabama’s first LGBTQ wellness center, practicing transgender health care. I find treating this community very therapeutic because these patients have so many issues upon initial presentation since they have been struggling with their gender identity for a long time. I get to offer them understanding and compassion as well as help them in their transition. Similarly, to myself and other survivors, after the marathon we present physically like everyone else on the outside but have lots of issues on the inside. As we learn to live with those injuries we move forward but our struggles are similar to the transgender community. Serving an underserved population medically, has allowed me to continue in my profession and be a doctor that can help others, since my injuries have impacted my ability to the family physician that I was trained to be.
Are there particular activities or charitable efforts in which you have participated that you’ve found to be especially inspiring or restorative?
I am an active participant in an organization called Strength to Strength started by Sarri Singer. It is set up to help survivors and family members of worldwide terrorist attacks. It has been instrumental in my recovery hearing from other survivors of terrorist attacks that have been dealing with their injuries many years longer than I have. It has also created more friendships and relationships with a community that understands what I am going through. The Massachusetts Resiliency Center had numerous programs over the years that were helpful in aiding my recovery, a job that must continue for others. Those programs were not just geared to survivors but helped the family members of survivors as well. I was also fortunate to have my story heard from the producers Lisa Rafferty and Joey Frangieh of the Finish Line, and to be part of this documentary play about recovery, resilience, and determination after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. Sharing my story with others and being an advocate for individuals with PTSD, hearing loss and mild traumatic brain injuries has also been a huge part of my recovery. I will continue to pay forward all the help I received. I will be there to help other survivors and their families to succeed in living the most productive life they can.