041216-PATRICK DOWNS MARATHON SURVIVOR.mp3

Patrick Downes and his wife Jessica Kensky had been married for only seven months when they were caught in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, both losing one of their legs. (Due to complications, Kensky later amputated her other leg as well.) 

Three years later, Downes returned to the course—this time, with the help of a prosthetic, to run. He joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan a few days before the race to talk about how his life has changed since 2013.

Selections from the interview include:

On how he and his wife have worked through the physical and psychological pain of recovery together

Our [marriage] was only 7 months old at the time of the bombing. We spent a lot of time in couples therapy and individual therapy and talking with our families and each other about how we make sense of all this and how—by some strange stroke of a bomb, she ends up losing two legs and I’ve ended up losing one—and I've had a relatively smoother recovery period. So she starts to doubt whether or not that she has what it takes to be healthy again, or that she’s putting in the effort to be healthy again, and if somehow my physical success has been because I have put a different effort in. We have had to unpack all of those very complex things. Thankfully, having gone to graduate school for psychology, I can be a little more aware of that, and we found incredible mental health clinicians who have walked us down this path together and helped us have some really difficult conversations to address those things.

On learning to deal with pain

I’ve gotten to a place now where I’m not in pain. I’ve done a lot of work with my prosthetist to construct a socket that is a good fit for my body…I’ll get tired, my right leg will get tired—my healthy leg—my foot will get tired. I’ve come to really understand the difference between discomfort and pain... 

There was this moment of terror and hate and murder…but then there was this incredible wave of love.

[For young people] our nerves are so healthy and want to send signals to our feet that aren’t here. Your brain is starting to require itself to remember what’s there and what’s not. Those things don’t respond to narcotics. You have to sometimes distract yourself, use cold packs because the sensation of the cold gets your brain to focus on the nerve pain….we’ve had to learn all these creative ways to keep ourselves comfortable.

On how he deals with media coverage of the Tsarnaev trial and upcoming films about the bombing

I think we’ve had to find a balance between all of it. We never use [the Tsarnaevs'] names, and we’ve really chosen to focus on the love that has come out of all this. If you really think of the groundswell of love and spirit and support that came out of Boston, Massachusetts, our country, and the world, it gives me chills just thinking about it....There was this moment of terror and hate and murder…but then there was this incredible wave of love. I don’t really know how you capture that….How do we keep that as part of our daily lives in general? Isn't that how we should respond to each other?

Patrick Downes is a runner in the 2016 Boston Marathon and a survivor of the 2013 Marathon bombing. Downes ran the 2016 Marathon today to raise money for the  Boston College Strong Scholarship and to raise awareness for  Caring for a Cure—an effort supported by his wife, Jessica—which helps oncology patients and their families during treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. To hear more from Downes, tune in to the audio link above. These excerpts have been edited for conciseness and clarity.