Mother, daughter battle back from Boston Marathon bombing injuries

Sydney and Celeste Corcoran.


(In the coming weeks, you’ll see in our series at what the Boston bombing means to more than two dozen people directly affected at last year’s marathon. So 2014 is the comeback, because 2013 was the knockdown. This is our third installment. Read their stories.)

It’s been nearly a year since Celeste Corcoran lost both of her legs when the first of two homemade pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The same blast nearly cost Corcoran’s daughter, Sydney, her life, slicing her femoral artery and leaving a hole in her right foot.

The last 12 months have been unspeakably challenging for Corcoran and her family as they try to adjust and come to terms with what she calls their “new normal,” and as the anniversary of the attacks nears, Corcoran knows she still isn’t whole, and may never feel entirely like her old self again.

The Corcoran family.

“This whole thing was so unbelievably overwhelming and there are so many things to think about and deal with, but since April 15, no day has been a normal day,” Corcoran told by phone recently. “Our lives have forever changed, and we’re trying to find our new normal, whatever that’s going to end up being. We’re still working through all that, and I think it’s going to take a while, but I have no doubt that we’ll get there.”

Some of Corcoran’s physical burden has been lifted by a nonprofit called 50 Legs, which helps to provide prosthetics and care to those who could not otherwise afford it. 50 Legs worked with a company in Orlando, Fla., called Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates to get Corcoran newer, more high-tech legs to replace a more antiquated pair from a clinic back home.

Corcoran’s new prosthetics have afforded her a freedom she didn’t feel she had in her original legs, even allowing the hairdresser to return to her old salon and cut hair, on a limited basis, for a handful of her old clients. More recently, Corcoran received a pair of running legs that will someday allow her to exercise in a way that, she jokes, she couldn’t even handle before the attacks.

“It’s a new thing because I never, ever ran before,” Corcoran said. “I always got shin splints so I hated it, and the joke was now that I don’t have shins, I shouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s really exciting to be able to do something physical like that. It feels so good. When I was out of breath from the physical exertion (the first time I tried to run), it felt great, because it makes you feel alive.”

Boston Marathon Tribute

Corcoran says, without exaggeration, that working with 50 Legs and POA has helped give her her life back, and she hopes to continue working with them to help raise money for other amputees in the future.

“I went from being so discouraged — (in June) I could barely walk, could barely stand in my prosthetics — and I’ve gone from that to walking pretty well in the prosthetics, the more that I wear them the more comfortable they are, to now going to running legs,” Corcoran said.

“I never ever thought that I would get this far at this point. So they pretty much, as far as I’m concerned, saved my life. Because it was pretty depressing to not be able to get around and to think, ‘This is it, this is what i have to deal with.’

“I’m getting more and more comfortable in my new skin,” she continued. “This is my reality and as our lives go on, things start to feel more normal. I start to feel like I can handle it. … Every little bit of my independence that I get back makes me feel less handicapped and more like my old self, even though I know I’ll never be completely like my old self again.”

Optimism radiates from Corcoran every time she speaks of her journey, but that eternal positivity shouldn’t be confused for a sense that everything is OK. In fact, one of the toughest aspects of Corcoran’s battle over the last year has been watching Sydney’s challenges go largely unnoticed.

This fall, Sydney started at nearby Merrimack College on a full scholarship provided by a local company called M/A-COM Technology Solutions. She and her brother, Tyler, are both living at home — the Corcoran family has plans to move to a new home more conducive to Celeste’s physical needs — and though Sydney’s injuries are less visible than her mom’s, the struggle has been just as legitimate.

After a vein graft to fix Sydney’s femoral artery didn’t heal like expected, she had to undergo an additional procedure, similar to an angiogram, to help fix blood flow to the area. Later, she had to have a stent put in, and she still has numbness as a result of the nerve damage to her leg and foot — and that’s to say nothing of the post-traumatic stress that has made coping a challenge.

“Everybody immediately sees my amputations and it’s so glaringly obvious, and I get all the attention,” Celeste said. “No one sees Sydney’s pain. Everyone thinks that she’s just back to normal.

Celeste Corcoran receives a hug from Dustin Pedroia.

“When it’s not summertime and nobody has shorts on, they can’t see her scars. Everybody thinks that she’s OK and just kind of pass it off like, ‘Oh, you’re all set now,’ and I feel like, emotionally, that’s been kind of challenging for her because she still has so much that she’s going through.”

The hope is that the passing of this year’s marathon will help Celeste, Sydney and the rest of the Corcoran family get over at least part of that emotional hump affecting each member of the household.

They will all be in attendance again at the race on April 21, and though facing her fears won’t rid her of the physical and emotional pain the last year has brought, Celeste hopes it may bring some closure and allow her and her family to keep forging ahead — the horror of April 15, 2013 fading further into the rearview.

“There are so many emotions,” Corcoran said. “There’s terror, nostalgia, to think that I can’t believe that it’s been a year and right before that I was whole, my daughter was whole. And to think that one decision that we made to see something that was supposed to be this fantastic event that wasn’t supposed to put us in danger at all forever changed our lives.

“I’m pretty nervous about going back, but my sister is running it again, so we will be there, and we’ll be cheering her on, and I feel like as nervous or anxious as I am about that particular day, I will be so, so relieved when it is over and done with. And I feel like it’s going to give my daughter and I — and my sister too, my whole family — I feel like all of us are going to have a feeling of maybe empowerment, taking control back. Because we went to this thing to have fun and people stole that from us, people robbed that from us.

“They robbed my sister of crossing the finish line in her very first Boston Marathon and having her family cheer her on; they robbed me of my legs; they almost robbed my daughter of her life, and she’ll forever be scarred and have nerve damage in her legs, and hers is sort of a silent pain unless you see her scars. People see my prosthetics and know that obviously that’s a big deal, but they look at her and think she’s perfectly fine, when she’s not.

“So I’ll be glad when it’s over with. I know there’s still going to be a lot of hard days ahead, but I’ll be glad to put that behind us.”