BOSTON — “I have tears streaming down my face as I write this to you,” said Hafsa LaBreche of Waltham in an email to the Public Spirit. The 26-year-old woman wrote on Thursday to express her thanks for the articles about Ayer native Brittany Loring, who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Earlier in the day, LaBreche’s friend searched the Internet and found the stories. LaBreche had yearned to know the condition of the seriously injured woman she’d helped 10 days earlier.
LaBreche said she was humbled and honored to have helped in the minutes after the bombing. LaBreche was also relieved to learn that Loring is on the mend.
LaBreche didn’t originally intend to go to the marathon, but her boss encouraged her to take the day off. Her husband, Christopher, was attending the Red Sox game. Her friend, Holly Smith of Boston, was headed to the race to cheer on her boyfriend Jason. The foursome planned to meet after the race at a Newbury Street restaurant.
Electronically tracking his bib number, the women estimated Jason would cross the finish line between 2:30 and 3 p.m. They went to Boylston Street at 1:15 p.m. and approached the finish line at 2:30 p.m.
The two mugged for a picture in front of the Lenscrafters store on Boylston Street before moving closer to the marathon route to watch runners cross the finish line.
“The finish line is very special,” said LaBreche. “People see that end point and throw their hands in the air as they cross the line.”
Minutes after the two women moved away from the storefront, the first blast occurred yards away at 2:49 p.m.
A few minutes earlier and they would have been “directly, directly where the blast occurred,” said LaBreche. “Somehow, by some miracle, I walked away physically unscathed.”
When the second bomb exploded several hundred feet away, “there was mayhem.”
LaBreche called her husband, who sprinted to Copley Plaza from Fenway Park. Like thousands of other runners, Jason was ordered off the course as the balance of the race was cancelled.
Thousands fled while police, emergency responders and ordinary people rushed in. There were many “who wanted to help but they didn’t know what to do,” LaBreche said.
A psychology graduate, LaBreche completed a basic life support EMT class in 2008, but she let her certification lapse years ago. LaBreche spotted Loring.
“She was standing and walking,” said LaBreche. “I guided her and said ‘You’re going to be OK.'”
“She was so badly injured. I knew from the nature of her injuries she needed surgery,” said LaBreche. “I knew if the bleeding didn’t come under control, she’d go into shock.”
LaBreche walked Loring to a side street and sat her on the sidewalk. “I wrapped her leg, which was, as I’m sure you know by now, in terrible condition,” said LaBreche. LaBreche estimated Loring suffered a 9- to 10-inch gash to her left thigh, exposing her femur.
Loring’s coat was used as a wrap. “I was afraid of infection for her,” said LaBreche.
LaBreche applied pressure above the wound by pressing her knee into the laceration. Loring also sustained an injured finger and a fractured skull. “I held her head, injured and bleeding, with my bare hands,” said LaBreche.
A passerby handed LaBreche some napkins. “I wrapped as many as I could into a ball and put it on her finger and had her elevate it.”
“I remember asking her name over and over, I asked her age and what she was allergic to. I tried to remember everything I had ever been taught in that moment,” said LaBreche. “With trauma patients, you need to get as much information as possible in case they go into shock. I remembered everything she told me except her last name.”
Loring identified herself as 28 years old, despite the fact that she turned 29 that day.
“She was so shocked, saying ‘Oh my God, I lost my friend,'” said LaBreche. Loring was approaching the finish line as a spectator with fellow Boston College MBA candidate Liza Cherney when the blast occurred, and she was also seriously injured in the blast.
When a firefighter approached to inspect Loring’s injuries, “I remember reeling them off to him,” said LaBreche. “He asked me if I was a doctor. I said no. He asked me if I knew her. I said no. He asked me if I would stay with her,” said LaBreche. “I said yes.”
The firefighter turned and walked away. LaBreche feared he wouldn’t come back.
Police had guns drawn, yelling at people to leave the scene. There were fears that there could be more bombs.
“There we so many other injured and so much chaos,” said LaBreche. My most vivid image was of people just running.”
“I took to talking to Brittany. I asked her where she was from and did she have siblings,” said LaBreche. “She remained conscious and alert and she told me what she could. She was incredibly strong, courageous and an inspiration.”
“I sort of grabbed the sides of her arms. I said ‘Brittany, look at me — you’re going to be OK,'” said LaBreche. “I said it strongly to assure her. She said ‘OK.'”
Less than two minutes later, a wheelchair arrived. LaBreche and “some other incredible brave souls” loaded Brittany into the wheelchair for a ride to an ambulance.
“My thoughts were ‘OK, she’s going to get help,'” said LaBreche. “I looked down and I was just soaked in her blood.”
Returning home “was just so surreal. How did I just witness that and now I’m just pulling up in my driveway? How did those innocent people literally get blown to pieces and Holly and I walk out without a scratch? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
LaBreche said Loring’s face has been seared into her memory, that she sees it in her dreams.
But that’s when she sleeps — and that’s not often. “You go through something like that with somebody and want to know they’re OK.”
Loring was treated and released from Boston Medical Center after undergoing three surgeries on her left leg.
LaBreche said her thoughts remain on Brittany’s well being.
“I’d love to see her. That’s entirely up to her. I was just a portion of Brittany’s experience. She may not even remember me.”
After interviewing LaBreche, Nashoba Publishing asked Loring if she recalled LaBreche. She did, and Loring expressed interest in meeting with LaBreche.
“She was so brave and strong. She wasn’t bawling hysterically or uncontrollable. She was trying to answer my questions and was alert. That takes a lot,” said LaBreche. “I wanted to convey that message to her.”
Sending a message through Nashoba Publishing, LaBreche said to Loring, “I just wanted to tell you I’m so happy you’re alive, peace in your recovery. God bless and I hope to hear from you when you’re well and able.”
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.