Patrick Downes doesn’t remember anything after the moment the bombs went off at the 2013 Boston Marathon. But his wife Jessica Kensky does. She remembers the smoke, the blood, and the screams.
I met Jess in her hospital room at Boston Medical Center, shortly after both she and Patrick lost their left legs at the finish line. Jess was obviously in pain, but her biggest concern wasn’t her amputated left leg, her badly damaged right leg, or her severe burns, but Patrick – who was battling a fierce infection across town at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. I held her hand for a while, and she asked for a favor: would I see Patrick and tell him to keep fighting. (I think she was asking everyone the same thing.)
Massachusetts has some of the very best hospitals in the world, and Jess and Patrick both credit their incredible doctors with saving their lives. A year later, I cheered with their family in the grandstands as they crossed the Boston Marathon finish line together in the hand cycle competition. We cried happy tears for all that they – and our city – had overcome.
But Jess’s recovery hit serious problems. American hospitals (thankfully) don’t have a lot of experience treating blast injuries like those seen in an overseas war zone. So Patrick and Jess petitioned the Pentagon for permission to receive treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where the world’s best military doctors have special expertise in treating blast injuries. It was there that doctors amputated Jess’s other leg, where she and Patrick received state-of-the-art care at their rehabilitation gym, and where they met with other blast amputees.
On a visit to Walter Reed, Patrick and Jess told me about an idea they had to allow survivors of terrorism to access treatment at appropriate military health care facilities. They were very clear: They did not want to take away a single hospital bed from a wounded service member who needed care. But when there was room, they hoped to remove some of the bureaucratic red tape with the Department of Defense – and help other survivors of terrorism to recover more fully, like they did.
The Walter Reed doctors and therapists liked the idea too, so we got to work. In June 2017, I introduced the bipartisan Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes Act, together with Republican Susan Collins from Maine.
If you’ve been paying attention to Congress lately, you know that the Republican leadership has had very little interest in lawmaking. Few bills actually make it to the floor of the Senate for a vote. But one bill that always gets a vote is the National Defense Authorization Act. So as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I urged my colleagues – including Chairman John McCain – to include key provisions of the Kensky-Downes Act in the bill, and they agreed.
In June 2017, the NDAA passed through the Armed Services Committee. In September, it passed through the Senate. In November, the final bill passed through Congress. And on December 12, Donald Trump signed it into law, including the provision that will help other survivors of terror like Jessica and Patrick to get the specialized care they need.
Today is the fifth anniversary of that tragic day in Boston. We remember the victims, survivors, and their families. We also remember the resiliency of the people of Boston and the generosity of people across Massachusetts and around the country.
And this year, we also celebrate a very special couple who took something terrible that had changed their lives forever, and turned it into something good for the next person who might need help.
Thank you, Jess and Patrick.
Your biggest fan,