Almanac

News - June 12, 2013

Woodside woman hailed as hero

She is reunited with woman she comforted after the Boston bombings

by Kate Daly

The woman hailed in last week's national news, "Bombing survivor meets her hero," is Amanda North of Woodside. Ever since she stood near the finish line during the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, Ms. North wondered about the fate of the gravely wounded woman she helped that day. That woman turned out to be Erika Brannock, the last survivor to be released from the hospital.

After losing one leg and breaking the other, Ms. Brannock underwent 11 surgeries, and was finally transferred to a rehab facility in the Baltimore area on June 3. When CNN interviewed her that day she said she'd like to thank the stranger who saved her life.

CNN broadcast a picture of a woman holding Ms. Brannock's hand right after the blasts. Ms. North's brother saw it on TV and texted his sister to tell her she was on the national news. Ms. North then contacted CNN, which made arrangements to fly her back east for a tearful reunion with Ms. Brannock on June 5. CNN broadcast the story that night.

On June 6, Ms. North was glad to be out of the limelight and back home, hugging her dogs and taking them for a walk. She says the trip was an emotional experience, but "good closure. ... I really wanted to know what happened to her."

"The new normal for Erika is being in rehab for a very long time, and being fitted for a prosthesis," Ms. North says.

Ms. Brannock, 29, planned to visit the preschool she taught at before the bombing. Ms. North says Ms. Brannock wants to return to work as soon as she is able, and can master the skill of getting up and down off the floor so she can play with her students again. Ms. North has invited the Brannocks to come to California when she can travel.

Ms. North says Ms. Brannock's father told her when Ms. Brannock arrived at the hospital "she had three minutes to live, she was the closest to death. My yelling for help to get treatment might have made a difference."

Ms. Brannock's mother told her: "I couldn't be there. Thank you for being me."

Ms. Brannock attended the marathon to watch her mother run. Ms. North was there to watch her daughter, Lili, run.

Some friends texted that they saw Lili approaching the finish. A woman switched places with Ms. North so she could have a better view. That's when the first bomb blew. "Everyone fell backwards ... there was a boom, a flash of light ... and then a second explosion and I felt like it was 9/11," Ms. North says.

"It was an out-of-body experience," she says. She spotted a man near her with both of his legs blown off, and then she saw Ms. Brannock. "I felt she needed some help. ... She was conscious ... she had a big gaping wound. I slithered over."

Ms. North put her jacket on Ms. Brannock's leg. Ms. North's cell phone was in the pocket and got lost in the shuffle. Ironically, the phone's cover had the words, "Keep calm and carry on." A man asked for belts to use as a tourniquet and Ms. North took her belt off. It could have ended up on Ms. Brannock, but in all the chaos, it's not clear.

The explosions perforated their eardrums, so Ms. North and Ms. Brannock couldn't hear well, and ended up getting each other's names wrong (Joan and Irene, respectively), but Ms. North held Ms. Brannock's hand and told her to hang on. Ms. North stayed with her until professional help arrived.

Realizing she had her own injuries, Ms. North went to a medical tent and also was taken to the hospital. There she was treated for a deep gash in one leg, burn marks on the other, bits of shrapnel in both legs, and singed hair. The hospital reached her son and he relayed that Lili had been knocked off her feet during the bombing, but was fine.

Cycle ahead seven weeks to June 5 when CNN TV cameras capture the reunion of Ms. North and Ms. Brannock. They hugged, cried and talked about their connection for life with Ms. North telling Ms. Brannock, "I'm never going to stop holding your hand."

CNN ran the story for two days, and added a live interview with Ms. North on the Anderson Cooper show in New York. Ms. North took the train from Baltimore to New York, and wore her two new Brannock tokens: a green sports top with Team Brannock written on it, and a dragonfly necklace Ms. Brannock gave her as a symbol of resilience and strength.

In return, Ms. North gave her a favorite scarf she bought when she was in her 20s. Ms. North describes it as "a symbol of adventure and doing fun stuff" before she started working in marketing for various Silicon Valley high-tech firms and having kids.

"I like to think of myself as a person who is appreciative, and try to live a purposeful life," Ms. North says, adding she's grateful for all the support she has received since the bombing. People brought food, sent flowers, and still check in with her to see how she's doing. After this last burst of media exposure, many former classmates are back in touch, too.

Ms. North says she did not want to be in the public eye, but has agreed to share her story at her church during services at Menlo Park Presbyterian on June 15 at 5 p.m., and on June 16 at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. A spokesperson says these are not fundraising events; the church plans to do something separate for Ms. Brannock.

Ms. North's daughter will be back studying at Harvard in the fall and training to run in the Boston Marathon next spring to raise money for Ms. Brannock. Ms. Brannock has many expenses during her recovery, and her family and friends have set up a fund for her.

Visit thebrannockfund.com for more information.

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