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 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. 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 and approached the finish line at 2:30 p.m. 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."
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.
"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.
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."
"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."
"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."
Less than two minutes later, a wheelchair arrived. LaBreche and "some other incredible brave souls" loaded Brittany into the wheelchair.
"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 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.
"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.