September 16, 2013

Charity's payments no cure for Boston bombing victims

Two brothers, who each lost a leg and got $1.2 million, face a lifetime of medical expenses.

By LENNY BERNSTEIN The Washington Post

BOSTON - When a close friend spent his money from the charity for Boston Marathon bombing survivors on a new house, J.P. Norden rejoiced along with him. When another used some of his six-figure payment to rent an apartment and pay off debts, Norden, who lost much of his right leg in the terrorist attack, knew the money had been put to good use.

click image to enlarge

J.P. Norden of Stoneham, Mass., watches TV in the hospital with his mother, Liz Norden. He received $1.2 million from the One Fund after losing much of his right leg in the Boston Marathon attack, but his bills will exceed that.

Josh Reynolds/ The Washington Post

But Norden's own $1.2 million check still sits in a drawer in his mother's apartment. The 33-year-old former truck driver lives there for now, along with his brother Paul, who also lost his right leg in the attack and received an identical payout. The brothers are reluctant to commit the money, aware that the cost of maintaining their expensive prostheses and replacing them every few years could chew up the generous contributions, and that their job prospects are uncertain at best.

"People will say stuff: 'Oh, you guys got $1.2 million,' " J.P. Norden said from his bed at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where he is recuperating from yet another surgery. "Did we? Because I know I've got to buy a leg for the rest of my life. I can't go out and buy a house."


The $60.9 million distributed to survivors in late June by the One Fund charity, with the express purpose of speeding their recoveries, is only one factor in determining which of the 260 people injured in the attack have begun to move on. Experts say recovering from severe trauma depends on many other elements, including a victim's strengths and vulnerabilities before the violence, his injuries and the extent of the carnage he witnessed, and the support he gets coping after an attack.

Not to mention luck. The second bomb that day went off near a group of friends from the area around Stoneham, Mass., who were waiting near the finish line. Three, including the Norden brothers, lost legs and continue to struggle. Two escaped with their limbs and have begun to reassemble their lives, one saying he has found new purpose.

"There is no simple algorithm as to why some people recover and some people don't," said Patricia Watson, senior educational specialist at the National Center for PTSD, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Norden brothers' lives are hamstrung by their severe, ongoing medical problems. Five months after the bombing, J.P. Norden has a new prosthesis but cannot walk without the aid of crutches. He has neither eardrum; his hearing will never fully return. He faces more surgery on his remaining leg's thigh muscle, part of which has hardened like stone from calcium deposits. Over the next six months, there will be two more operations on his ears.

He has spent 24 hours a day for nearly the past two weeks in a hospital bed, recuperating from a grueling 10-hour procedure to graft skin from his back to the stump of his leg, a shocking patchwork of flesh and stitches above his bedcovers. It was at least his 13th operation, although the Nordens have lost count.

Paul Norden, 32, is walking on his own with the aid of a $112,000 high-tech prosthesis that extends nearly to his groin. But surgeons still must break his right hand and surgically repair it. A nail and a spring lodged in the skin under his chin recently began to cause him problems.

"People don't even have a clue," said their mother, Liz Norden, about the challenges her sons face. "They really don't."


When the bomb exploded just a few feet away on April 15, the Norden brothers, Jarrod Clowery and two other friends were gathered with other friends outside Forum, a bar near the marathon's finish line. They were awaiting the arrival of another childhood buddy, firefighter Mike Jefferson, who was finishing the race.

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