MARTINEZ (CBS SF) – Katherine and Alan Hern said the outpouring of support from community members from Martinez and across the Bay Area has been the key to helping their 12-year-old son Aaron recover from the injuries he suffered in the Boston Marathon bombings last month.
“First and foremost, we want to express our sincere gratitude to the community of Martinez—our friends, neighbors, teachers, students and local businesses … and everything from letters and cards to cookies and fundraising efforts,” said Alan Hern, 41, speaking to reporters outside of City Hall in Martinez Friday morning.
“Our thank yous extend to the entire Bay Area and beyond … it’s these well wishes and prayers that we believe truly helped Aaron recover from this ordeal,” he said.
The messages of thanks come three days after the Herns returned home from Boston with Aaron and their 10-year-old daughter Abigail.
Aaron was standing on the sidelines near the finish line to catch a glimpse of his mother competing in the April 15 race when the bombs went off, hitting him with shrapnel that caused severe injuries to his left leg.
Since then, he underwent two surgeries at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he recovered quickly enough to be able to return home to Martinez just in time for his 12th birthday.
The 12-year-old, who was invited by the Golden State Warriors to their playoff game on Thursday and met the team, remained at home during Friday morning’s news conference and was planning to get a haircut Friday to trim off the hair that was singed during the bomb blasts, his parents said.
Earlier this week, Aaron had 86 staples removed from his leg and underwent tests to gauge the extent of the damage caused to his hearing from the bombing, which punctured one of his eardrums. He is expected to undergo physical therapy for the next six weeks, his parents said.
“Physically, he’s improving by leaps and bounds each day,” Alan Hern said. “It will be the emotional roller coaster that lasts longer.”
The parents described the terrifying scene that unfolded when the twin bombs went off mere feet from their son.
Alan Hern said he was standing with a friend and his daughter a few feet behind Aaron, who was beside a friend just behind the barriers watching the race, when the first bomb exploded.
The father grabbed his daughter and took her to a nearby restaurant after the second bomb went off, sending shrapnel through Aaron’s left leg and knocking him to the ground.
When Alan Hern returned to the scene, he found Aaron on the ground. He said he saw a wound to his son’s upper leg that “looked pretty scary, like something you would see out of a movie.”
In the chaotic moments that followed, a man nearby removed his belt and used it as a tourniquet around the boy’s leg, Alan Hern recalled.
From there, Aaron was rushed to a hospital via ambulance.
“Then we started in the longest two hours of our lives trying to find Aaron,” recalled Katherine Hern, who had just witnessed the explosions as she ran toward the finish line.
Due to the unusual situation, many victims of the bombings were listed at hospitals under letters and not under their names. Aaron was listed as “Patient BBB,” making it tough to find him at first, she said.
The parents were able to locate their son in the Intensive Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he began treatment.
He also received dozens of cards and other well wishes from teachers, classmates, community members and strangers.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing and throughout his recovery process, Aaron has stayed remarkably composed, drawing the admiration of a veteran nurse and bringing a doctor to tears at Boston Children’s Hospital, Alan Hern said.
“The hardest part for him is the attention—he doesn’t think he deserves the attention,” his father said.
Once he could communicate from his hospital bed, Aaron asked about the friend standing beside him during the bombings, his sister and others standing on the sidewalk near him that day, his parents said.
“He made gestures that he had seen what was going on…unfortunately, he saw pretty much everything,” Alan Hern said.
The FBI also questioned Aaron about what he saw before the family left Boston, Hern said.
Katherine Hern said that in talks with their children, she and her husband “try to explain that we can’t prevent these horrible things from happening, the only thing we can do is be resilient.”
They said they appreciate the efforts of the law enforcement agencies that ultimately captured one of the two bombing suspects after the other was killed in a violent confrontation with police. But when they first heard the news, they felt numb, the parents explained.
“At first, I was very, very angry…after a while, you just get really drained and exhausted by the whole ordeal,” Alan Hern said.
“It’s hard to understand what goes on in somebody’s mind to do this to people,” he said.
However, the overwhelming support sent to the family in the aftermath of the bombings has helped them heal, the parents said.
In addition to the flood of cards and well wishes, fundraisers organized by Martinez residents and local businesses have helped cover most, if not all, of Aaron’s medical care costs, the parents said.
“As close as this community is, they’ve really gone above and beyond,” Katherine Hern said.
Support from Kaiser of Northern California, whose president was in Boston at the time of the bombings, has also helped cover the “expensive” hospital bills, Alan Hern said.
Nearly three weeks after the tragic events in Boston, the Herns say they realize that they are lucky compared to those who lost lives or limbs in the bombings.
Aaron hopes to return to school next week, though he will likely have to forgo some of his favorite sports this year like baseball and swimming, his parents said.
“He wants to get back to school, he wants to go to a movie with his friends, to get back to sports…he’s ready to be Aaron again,” his mother said.
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