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John Odom, Boston bombing survivor, shares story - exclusive

June 6, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
John Odom traveled from Los Angeles to Boston to watch his daughter run the Boston Marathon, but just as she approached the finish line, everything changed in a sudden blinding flash.

Odom was almost killed in the April 15 bombings. In his first public interview, he tells me about how he's learning to walk again and finding inspiration in every new step.

You may not know him by name, but you'll certainly know his work. Odom's company helped build iconic landmarks across the Southland, including Staples Center, L.A. Live, the Getty Museum and the Home Depot Center.

"It was a beautiful day. We had our signs made," Odom recalls. "You see them coming around the corner and coming towards us and I just started tearing up and getting emotional."

Odom was standing at the finish line, waiting for his daughter to come through when it happened.

"The next thing I know, I heard a big explosion. It blew us down, my wife and I. I told my wife, she was laying on top of me, 'It's my leg, Karen. It's my leg. I can't move and it's hurt,'" said Odom. "I knew it was bad. I could feel the blood rushing out."

It was a frantic rush as family members came to his aid, trying to stop the bleeding. Paramedics showed up and loaded him into an ambulance.

"Then that's all I remember," Odom said.

He was unconscious for four weeks.

"All I remember is waking, looking around and yelling for help. I was scared to death," said Odom.

He woke to his new life -- muscle, flesh, nerves, torn from his body. Remarkably, doctors saved his legs, but they will never be the same. Odom said the shrapnel went up his leg and cut his sciatic nerve, causing him to lose the ability to control his foot and ankle. Every day is a gamut of emotions.

"The worst part has been trying to come to the realization that I am not going to be normal. I am definitely going to be handicapped," said Odom. "I wake up in the mornings, today, and it comes over me and I don't know why and I just start crying and then it goes away."

Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are accused of setting off two pressure cooker bombs packed with shrapnel near the marathon's finish line. Dzhokhar was captured alive, while his brother died in a shootout with authorities.

"I don't know these guys. But they were such cowards," said Odom. "I told my wife, 'I think I could strangle them if I could get my hands on them.'"

Odom said he is making progress in his recovery.

"I was able to take 34 steps last Friday, with a walker, but I took 34 steps," he said.

Physical therapist Jessica Guilbert is the miracle worker. Coupled with Odom's determination, the two go to work twice a day to make him whole again.

"John is an incredibly motivated patient. He's already surpassed most of the goals that I set for him when he got here. He's so determined, it's really incredible," said Guilbert.

A state of the art brace will help Odom walk. He's still learning how to use it. His family is with him every day. We first met Odom's wife, Karen, just three days after the bombing, when his survival was very much in doubt. She told me how his heart actually stopped during surgery.

"It's changed dramatically since we spoke the last time," she said.

Now, she's so relieved, but admits there are still terrifying moments that no one sees.

"He'd wake up in the middle of night and say here it comes again," she said.

Their daughter, Nichole, was the marathon runner. She's a former All-American softball player from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her husband, Matt Reis, is a star soccer player, the goalie for the New England Revolution. When the bombing happened, he used his belt and shirt as tourniquets, helping to save his father in law's life.

And then there are tens of thousands more people he's never met, all watching his progress through his wife's blog. She calls it her therapy. She posts updates and pictures of visitors, such as Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, a family friend.

"I looked at that and I saw where there's close to 60,000 people that have read this. It just blows me away to know that there's this many people out there care about me," John Odom said.

Saturday was supposed to be his first official day of retirement. But it's not getting him down. It'll be a few more weeks of therapy before the Odoms, married 46 years, can return to their home in Redondo Beach.

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