“People will say stuff: ‘Oh, you guys got $1.2 million,’ ” J.P. Norden says from his bed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he is recuperating from yet another surgery. “Did we? Because I know I’ve got to buy a leg for the rest of my life. I can’t go out and buy a house.”
The $60.9 million distributed to survivors in late June by the One Fund charity, with the express purpose of speeding their recoveries, is only one factor in determining which of the 260 people injured in the attack have begun to move on. Experts say recovering from severe trauma depends on many other elements, including a victim’s strengths and vulnerabilities before the violence, his injuries and the extent of the carnage he witnessed, and the support he gets coping after an attack.
Not to mention luck. The second bomb that day went off near a group of friends from the area around Stoneham, Mass. — a small, mostly working-class town north of Boston — who were waiting near the finish line. Three, including the Norden brothers, lost legs and continue to struggle. Two escaped with their limbs and have begun to reassemble their lives, one saying he has found new purpose.
“There is no simple algorithm as to why some people recover and some people don’t,” said Patricia Watson, senior educational specialist at the National Center for PTSD, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Resources are a big positive protective factor for many people,” she added. “In the same way, ongoing adversity does make it difficult for people to recover.”
The Norden brothers’ lives are hamstrung by their severe, ongoing medical problems. Five months after the bombing, J.P. Norden has a new prosthesis but cannot walk without the aid of crutches. He has neither eardrum; his hearing will never fully return. He faces more surgery on his remaining leg’s thigh muscle, part of which has hardened like stone from calcium deposits. Over the next six months, there will be two more operations on his ears.
He has spent 24 hours a day for nearly the past two weeks in a hospital bed, recuperating from a grueling 10-hour procedure to graft skin from his back to the stump of his leg, a shocking patchwork of flesh and stitches above his bedcovers. It was at least his 13th operation, although the Nordens have lost count.