Erika Brannock rolled away from the hospital Tuesday. She stopped at the passenger door of a silver SUV parked in front, her face set with concentration as she tried, for the first time, to ease herself from her wheelchair into the car seat.
It had been two months since the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, when bombs exploded on the sidelines where she and her sister and brother-in-law were watching for her mom to finish the race. They were all wounded, Brannock, a 29-year-old preschool teacher from Towson, most of all; her left leg had to be amputated above the knee, and she faces more surgeries on her right leg this summer.
But to be able to finally leave the hospital, where she was in in-patient rehab, she said through tears, “is kind of amazing.”
“I can finally go back to a semi-normal life,” she said, “or start to figure out my new normal life.”
Figuring out “normal” means things like navigating the new wheelchair ramp at her mother Carol Downing’s house in Monkton, and learning to use her arms to bump herself up all the stairs there.
She has already found out she’s much stronger than she thought she was, both physically and mentally.
Last night, she talked with her sister, Nicole Gross — whose left leg was broken in two places, ankle fractured, Achilles tendon severed — about her future.
Gross told her they’d set goals together.
Some she already knows: Finish graduate school. Go back to work in the fall at Davenport Preschool. And learn to walk with crutches — by Sept. 1, she hopes, in time for a friend’s wedding.
First, the little things. Get into the car. Get home. Hook up the IV for another dose of antibiotics. Then get some sleep.
“I’m very excited to have a nap in Mom’s house,” she said, smiling.
It would be nice to not have people checking on her every hour, she said. It would be nice to begin to get some independence back.
“We didn’t know she was alive, after the bombs went off,” her uncle Ron Atkinson said in front of Kernan Hospital on Tuesday; the family couldn’t find the three of them for hours. “Now, to see, 60-some days later, to see her finally out of a hospital — ” He stopped, choking back tears, his arm around his wife, Debbie, who wore an Erika Brannock Fund T-shirt to help raise money for Brannock’s medical expenses.
Using a small wooden board, patient care tech Roetisha Hopkins helped Brannock maneuver gently, gently from the wheelchair up into the car.
“How was that?!” Downing said, beaming.
The car pulled away from Kernan. Brannock smiled, and waved goodbye.