One week after two explosions rained terror on a city, put a nation on edge and altered the lives of more than 170 people forever, two men who have come to represent the horror and humanity of the Boston Marathon bombings met again.
But this Monday, Carlos Arredondo wasn’t gripping Jeff Bauman’s severed artery while pushing him in a wheelchair down Boylston Street toward an ambulance. This Monday, the two spoke in the peace and quiet of Bauman’s room at Boston Medical Center, where he is recovering from amputations of both of his legs below the knee. With Arredondo’s wife and Bauman’s girlfriend alongside them, they talked about their lives, the future and the moment captured in a photo that has inextricably linked them together.
“I was so happy to see him with his big open-wide eyes and very grateful to be able to hug him and let him know how proud I am of him,” Arredondo said yesterday.
Bauman, 27, was waiting at the finish line for his girlfriend to cross when the bombs exploded. Arredondo was watching from nearby bleachers, handing out American flags while he cheered on members of the National Guard and a suicide prevention group that were running in honor of his two deceased sons. When the bombing hit, adrenaline and instinct kicked in, and he immediately hopped the fence and ran toward the people on the ground.
“There were so many people on the floor, so many serious injuries in the legs. It was unbelievable, people were everywhere,” Arredondo said.
When he saw the extent of Bauman’s injuries and the rapid loss of blood, he knew Bauman needed his help the most. He ripped up a sweater and used it to try to stop the bleeding from Bauman’s legs and immediately got the attention of a woman with a wheelchair. He placed Bauman in the chair and began pushing, but the fabric he used as bandages kept getting caught in the wheels. Arredondo took matters into his own hands, literally, throwing off the fabric and pinching closed an artery on Bauman’s right leg – the image of humanitarianism seen around the world.
“The picture that you see, that’s what it is and that how it happened, you know,” he said. “I was just trying to help him in every way I could, and thank God he gave me the opportunity to help this beautiful young man.”
When they finally reached an ambulance, Arredondo asked for Bauman’s name. “Jeff,” he managed to say, then spelled out his last name for Arredondo.
The two remembered that moment together in the hospital Monday, Arredondo said.
“I spent an hour there trying to talk with him and laugh with him and let him know how great he was doing while all this was happening,” he said.
As gifts, Arredondo brought Bauman a hat as well as a card signed by military families who have lost someone in war. One of Arredondo’s sons died in Iraq in 2004, and he spent the weekend in Groton, Mass., at an event through Project New Hope, which provides support for military families.
Arredondo, who is a peace activist, hopes he and Bauman will stay in touch and maybe even partner on a project in the future.
“(I’m) looking forward to meeting with him more and getting to know him better and perhaps to do some things together on behalf of his family and himself to help others,” Arredondo said.
That resilience and positive spirit is a reflection of Bauman’s life outlook both before and after the bombing, his stepmother, Csilla Bauman of Concord, said. In the days since the bombings, his spirits are high despite the uphill battle he will face. He has tough times, but his willingness to continue living a full life overshadows the bad.
“His mind is just very focused on just going every day and getting stronger and just adjusting to this new way of life that he’s going to live, but in a positive way,” Csilla said yesterday.
The week following the bombings brought more than $600,000 in donations to Bauman and visits from celebrities, sports stars and a group of Marines who are also amputees. It also brought news that Bauman helped identify the bombers, who authorities believe to be brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev. Bauman reportedly told the FBI he looked right at a man in a baseball hat, sunglasses and a dark hooded sweatshirt who dropped a bag near his feet moments before the explosion. That matches the description of Tamerlan, 26, who died early Friday morning after a shoot-out with police. Dzhokhar, 19, is still alive and has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.
Csilla remembers seeing the sketch artist at the hospital, and seeing a drawing in his notepad but not thinking much of it, unsure of how many other sketches he had based on tips. The next day, the face in that sketch was on the news. It is “surreal” she said, that Bauman was able to remember the details.
“(Bauman) was supposed to be there to do that I guess,” Csilla said.
The group of amputees from the Marines who visited Bauman offered him a glimpse into his recovery. Some of them were not only walking, but running, within three months of losing their legs, they told him. Hearing those stories has helped inspire Bauman to work toward a full and quick recovery. He told his family they don’t have to wheelchair-equip their houses for him.
“You think the worst, so you think you’ve got to re-alter your home because of all of this,” Csilla said. “He’s like ‘Dad, don’t touch your house, I’m going to be walking in there.’ ”
Bauman’s recovery is going so well that he could be in a rehabilitation facility by the end of the week.
The kind words and wishes for strength from around the world mean a lot to Bauman and the family.
“I never expected it, but I never doubted that it would have been there, because that’s how the American people are to their people, and even just to anyone else, they’re like that to the whole world, too,” Csilla said.
Bauman realizes that his story has become a national one, but she’s not sure he knows how big it’s become just yet. He’s a humble person, and she’s not sure how he will react to all of the money. The family is praying for all of the other victims and hopes they are all getting the support they need to rebuild their lives, Csilla said.
The end of Boston’s week of terror was just the beginning of a road to physical, mental and emotional recovery. With family, friends and a supportive girlfriend beside him, Bauman is trying not to let it change him.
“As horrific as this is happening to him, he just has the most wonderful spirit and (is) funny, he cracks one-liners,” Csilla said. “He’s just Jeff; that’s how Jeff always was, so this is not going to put him down.”
A previous version of this article misstated Bauman’s role in helping the FBI identify the bombers. Bauman reportedly saw a man in sunglasses, a hat and a dark jacket over a hooded sweatshirt, which matches the description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.