BOSTON - "I have tears streaming down my face as I write this to you," emailed Hafsa LaBreche of Waltham. The 26-year old woman sent an email on Thursday to thank me about articles about Boston Marathon bombing casualty and Ayer native Brittany Loring.
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.
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.
"Everyone was really happy," said LaBreche. "The finish line is very special. People see that end point and throw their hands in the air as they cross the line.
The two stood behind crowd-control metal barriers topped with international flags. Some 6-8 minutes after the two women moved away from the store, 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 LaBrechs. "How the hell did we even get out of there? Somehow....by some miracle, I walked away physically unscathed. I remember looking up because that's where a lot of the debris and smoke was coming from.
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 of the course as the balance of the race was cancelled.
For those near the finish line, it was "chaos," said LaBreche.
Thousands fled; police and emergency responders rushed in. There were also "people there who wanted to help but they didn't know what to do," said LaBreche.
A psychology graduate, LaBreche completed a basic life support EMT class in 2008 (she notes she'd let her certification lapse years ago).
LaBreche knew Loring had been hard hit. "She was standing and walking. I guided her and said 'You're going to be OK."
"I knew she needed medical attention," said LaBreche. "She was so badly injured. I knew from the nature of her injuries she needed surgery. 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 9-10 inch gash to her left thigh, exposing the femur bone.
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.
A passerby handed LaBreche some paper napkins. "I wrapped as many as I could into a ball and put it on her finger and had her elevate it."
Another person gave LaBreche a glass bottle containing soda water. "I took it because I had no gloves on and I had her blood all over me.
"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 even 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" year old
"She was so shocked, saying 'Oh my God, I lost my friend," said LaBreche. "I told her that we would find her."
Loring was watching the marathon along with fellow Boston College M.B.A. candidate Liza Cherney who was also seriously injured in the blast. Loring is simultaneously studying at Boston College for a law degree.
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 recalled fearing, "He's not coming 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." LaBreche said Loring's face has been "seared into my memory."
Within minutes, LaBreche met up with her sister, Saadia Lewis of Boston, who is a nursing student. LaBreche urged her sister to return to the blast scene with her to help victims. "We were sprinting there."
However an officer advised them that all the patients had been taken for treatment. "I looked at him and said 'That is amazing.' He asked if I needed to be checked out but I said 'No, this isn't my blood."
"Everything was in slow motion. The reality was just sinking in," said LaBreche. "Our city was bombed. I've witnessed terrorism first hand."
"There was such a feeling of joy and happiness and the next thing you know you're witnessing terror and destruction. It was just completely opposing ends of the spectrum."
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 she has sees "Brittany's face in my 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 transported to Boston Medical Center for treatment. As of Wednesday, Brittany's GiveForward.com fundraising webpage provided an update, stating Loring is now receiving physical and occupational therapy.
Regarding the Boston metro lockdown to search for the second suspect, LaBreche said she got "angry we're shutting down our city for one terrorist. I refused to be afraid because of some bastard."
LaBreche can't attend, but her friend owns Tempo Restaurant at 474 Moody Street in Waltham which will host a fundraiser on Sunday, April 28 fundraiser from 4-9 p.m. All proceeds benefit One Fund (OneFund.com) for the Boston Marathon victims.
LaBreche said her thoughts remain on Brittany's wellbeing. "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."
"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. I wanted to convey that message to her."
"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."
"I wish I could have done more, and I was so sorry it was her that got hurt and not me."
LaBreche doesn't think she did anything particularly brave or extraordinary. "I think it's basic human nature if you see someone hurt or wounded that you want to do what you can."
The articles on Loring has helped bring LeBreche some degree of comfort. I just wanted to say 'thank you for writing that article. I wouldn't have found her if you didn't."
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.