Boston Marathon bombing survivor tries to help teen from El Salvador
BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) -- Karen Rand's good friend died and she suffered near-fatal wounds herself in the Boston Marathon bombings, but in the midst of her own recovery she has undertaken to help a girl she never met from a country she has never been to but who, like her, has traumatically lost a leg.
In one of the few interviews she has ever given, Rand agreed to share her story to help convince people to open their hearts -- and wallets -- so that 14-year-old Melissa Estefania Salinas can walk on two legs again.
"There's something about her story. We can't get it off our minds," Rand said, sitting with her boyfriend Kevin McWatters. "I looked at her picture when she was sitting on her bed and she still had that smile on her face. It would just be so nice."
Rand would almost certainly still be a stranger to Salinas had it not been for the 2013 Boston Marathon.
She went with her good friend Krystle Campbell to watch McWatters cross the finish line.
"We got our way down the street that was right near those flags and right near the finish line. And we managed to work our way up to the fence. And we thought, 'Wow! This is jackpot. We're going to take a great picture.'"
She posted a picture on Facebook of the flags in front of her, the finish line out of the frame to the left. The first bomb, allegedly placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, would soon explode at that spot.
Karen never got to take the photo of McWatters, who was stopped before he could finish.
"I felt like I was in a dream, like it wasn't even real. It was crazy," she recalled. "I stayed conscious through the whole thing. I don't know how because I was in the most incredible pain and I knew something really terrible happened. I remember trying to find Krystle and putting my hand down on the sidewalk and feeling all these hot pieces of something and glass."
Karen found Krystle and they briefly held hands.
"She spoke to me just for a minute and she said that her legs hurt. And then I started screaming for help," Rand said. "I knew her hand had slipped out of mine and she had probably lost consciousness, but even then you can't comprehend that someone could die. You can't."
"It's always going to be the hardest thing about that day, that she's gone. I think about her all the time," Rand said. "She had a beautiful smile, beautiful blue eyes. She was a good friend and she was a good friend to a lot of people who miss her terribly."
Eight months later, Rand is learning to get around with a new prosthetic leg. It was that artificial leg which prompted some questions from Boston Barstool owner Mauricio Quiroga when the pair were in his Somerville store.
Quiroga was suddenly curious about prosthetic legs because he had come to hear of Salinas' plight through a friend of his, who went to high school with Salinas' mother.
Quiroga had started his own social media campaign to raise money to bring Salinas to Boston to get her the care she needs.
"I told (Rand) the story and she herself lost her leg and she's willing to help," Quiroga said.
Salinas' story began last August, when Salinas and her younger sister were walking to a bakery when a drag racing car went out of control. She was 13 at the time, now 14.
"She pushed her sister out of the way because she saw the car coming," Quiroga said.
Salinas lost her leg above the knee, and four months later, is still struggling. The family, raised by a single mother, doesn't have the money to travel to a country where a prosthetic leg is available, let alone the $15,000 to buy a leg for an above-the-knee amputee like her.
Karen and her boyfriend, who have seen an outpouring of support from Boston and around the world since the Marathon Bombings, gave money. But decided they needed to do more.
"She's in a third world country and realistically no one is going to help her," McWatters said.
"I looked at her picture when she's sitting on her bed and she still had that smile on her face. It would just be so nice, it would just make me feel good to know that we did a little bit to get somebody else to walk, too. And maybe it was a good distraction for me right when I needed it," Rand added.
Rand approached Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics in Newton, where Rand and other Boston Marathon survivors have gotten prosthetic limbs. The company and its manufacturers agreed to give Salinas a new leg, free of charge.
"Pay it forward. You hear that expression a lot. Well, we're paying it forward," said Arthur Graham of Next Step. "Maybe Melissa will go back to El Salvador and maybe, when she's 18, 19, maybe she'll want to go to college and help other amputees that don't have the access to the care that people do here."
A new leg is waiting for Salinas, but she still needs money to fly to Boston and stay for a month during physical therapy. Her remaining leg needs more medical care, too, Quiroga said.
Rand knows well the impact a new leg will have on Salinas.
"I can't even begin to tell you. Because it's the difference of getting your life back. Some quality of your life back. And being able to get to run and play and do the things that you always got to do before," Rand said.
"Given all that you've been through, some people would say, 'Why are you doing this?" Fox 25 reporter Mike Beaudet asked Rand and McWatters.
"Because God put her in our path," McWatters replied.
"But it also was a good thing for me because it's really easy to have a pity party, as we like to say, to really feel sorry for yourself and think, 'Wow, this is so challenging and how am I going to live my life now.' And then it doesn't take much to look around and see there are a lot of other people who are a lot worse off."