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Insight With Beth Ruyak

Hosted By Beth Ruyak

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Boston Marathon Bombing Survivors Share Children's Book About Rescue, Their Service Dog

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes survived the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, with lower extremity injuries that took both of Jessica's legs and one of Patrick's legs. Their service dog Rescue was named the 2017 ASPCA Dog of the Year.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes survived the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, with lower extremity injuries that took both of Jessica's legs and one of Patrick's legs. Their service dog Rescue — a black Labrador retriever — was named the 2017 ASPCA Dog of the Year.

They've written a children's book called "Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship" about their life together.

After the show, Beth Ruyak continued the conversation in this overtime interview below.

Overtime Interview Highlights

On how they deal with the Boston Marathon every year

Downes: It's really hard. It's a day that is a whole roller coaster of emotions. It's a day for us to remember those who were killed and their families who are forever without their loved ones. It's also a day of celebration in a way for the people who saved our lives, for the new friendships and families that we have forged. So it's a hard day for us. We still don't really know how to spend it. Sometimes we think we ought to spend it with our family, or as we've come to call them our Boylston Street family -- those injured alongside us. And then other times we just kind of want to huddle up on the couch and let the day pass.

So we're still struggling with that. The day of the marathon has been celebratory for us. We've been able to welcome many of our friends from Walter Reed, where we lived for three years, to come and participate in the Boston Marathon which is on Patriots Day in Boston. So how appropriate to celebrate that day with real life patriots and to see them run on prosthetic legs or hand-cycle with prosthetic arms, it's just we can't think of a more beautiful way to spend that day with them.

On how many surgeries they went through

Kensky: Yeah I I lost count. And I also found that keeping track of the number was not helpful for me. It's funny it's something that a lot of people who are chronically ill do. And it's one of the most common questions I'm asked but I feel like the number can never actually quantify the amount of pain and suffering. And so I just say things like I was a full time patient for four and a half years because that's what it took for me to stop having surgeries on a regular basis.

I did what's called limb salvage. And I had no idea at the time what that meant when the doctors in the early days said to myself and my family we saved your leg, I was so excited. And I thought that meant they were saving what I knew was a leg -- the leg I had had for 32 years. But it was nothing like that. It was totally deformed. I couldn't wear any shoes, definitely no women's shoes of any kind. And the worst part was I was in chronic, terrible, terrible pain which anyone who's had that knows it completely changes your life and your personality. So I went on to do all kinds of surgeries where they took muscle and skin and tissue and bone from other parts of my body to try to rebuild what the bomb took.

On becoming the first bombing amputee to finish the race on foot

Downes: It was in 2016. That -- just training for the race was a spiritual experience for me to be able to use my body in that way. I got to do a lot of my training runs with my brother with Jess's sister Sarah and her now husband Brendan. And then I ran it with my brother and Sarah and a few other friends and for me it was -- it was the physical achievement but it was hopefully a message to Boston and beyond, even as far as Sacramento that all of this love that people had invested in US had paid off.

And it didn't mean that our road was over.

The next day we got in the car and drove back to Walter Reed because there was more work to be done but it was -- I cried a lot over 26.2 miles, and particularly at the finish when I saw Jess.

Kensky: And I want to add to it was hard for us as a couple because we ran together all the time. That was a big part of our early dating life. It was part of our married life. It was one of our favorite hobbies to do together. And I wasn't even able to walk. And here Patrick was training for a marathon. And so it was tough to navigate.

On Scott Magoon, who did the illustrations in their book “Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship"

Downes: Scott was running in 2013 and coming down Boylston Street when the first bomb went off in front of him. A few seconds later the second bomb went off behind him and his family was on Boylston Street waiting for him to finish to cheer him on. Thankfully none of them were physically injured but the psychological toll was significant.

As we've talked with him he was looking for a way to find some healing find some meaning but didn't really know how to do that. He was thankful to not be physically hurt in and thought that the attention needed to be on those who were or those whose family members were killed. But he still needed an outlet.

And when our publisher Candlewick Press, for whom he used to work, matched us up with him as illustrator it was just perfect because not only is he an incredibly skilled artist as you can see from all the illustrations but each illustration is so chock full of emotion and symbolism and the connection between Rescue and Jessica because there was something about his experience that day that allowed him to infuse it into this book.

 author interview

Cody Drabble

Insight Producer and On-Air Director

Cody Drabble learned to love public radio growing up in San Francisco with KQED on every morning during breakfast. In addition to producing and directing the live broadcast of Insight each morning, he also fills in as guest host for Beth Ruyak.   Read Full Bio 

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