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John Odom, Boston bombing survivor, speaks of rehabilitation, challenges - exclusive

Survivor John Odom speaks to ABC7's David Ono on the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.
April 15, 2014 3:52:40 PM PDT
John Odom of Redondo Beach escaped death, but was severely injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. He says this past year has been a supreme fight to save his legs, to learn to walk again and to get his life back.

Through the happy sounds of grandchildren and lawnmowers, you could never imagine what the Odom family has had to endure this past year.

One year ago, they were at the Boston Marathon finish line when the explosions hit. Seven of them were blown down, but only one, John Odom, didn't get back up. His legs were ripped apart.

Two days later, his wife Karen describes to me the horror.

"I looked down and it was obvious that he had severed an artery and we were in serious shape," said Karen. "My son-in-law arrived and I was yelling 'we need a belt, we need a belt'. Matt got there had a belt, put the belt on, took his shirt off, held it on the wound, and then Donnie tried to get help."

In the coming hours, John's heart stopped twice, but doctors saved him and his legs.

In June, I met John in Boston as he learned to walk again. I watched as he and his physical therapist had a giant breakthrough walking 94 feet.

"Every day, it just gets stronger and I get more confidence that I can do this," said John.

He arrived back home in September, five months after leaving, miraculously walking into the airport.

On the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, I sat down with John at his home near Redondo Beach.

"Well, you know David, when I got back I thought life was going to be back to normal," said John. "Our new normal is that I go to therapy three days a week, two hours a day."

As always, he is absolutely honest about his struggles.

"I tried to go back to work for a little while, I couldn't concentrate," said John. "I was having issues of, how can I say, basically slow thinking. Why? I don't know but, uh, it's coming back. I'm doing a lot better with it."

He looks back at his experience in Boston rehab, fondly recalling the common bond he developed with the many others who were badly injured.

"For me, I wanted to get up, I wanted to go down there, I wanted to work out," he said, "and I wanted to do that and I wanted to show the people out there that 'hey, we can do this together and we can move on and we will succeed.'"

His therapist, Jessie Gilbert, is running the race in his honor this year. That's one of many reasons he's going back to Boston, but Karen admits things will be different.

"I had asked John a long time ago, 'how do you feel about that?' and he said, 'I just don't want to be at the finish line where we were before,' so we are not going to be there. We're going to be in a hotel that has a view of Boylston Street."

Three weeks ago in Santa Monica, John helped kick off a 3,000 mile run to Boston, raising money for the victims.

"I also want to thank all of you who are here today for all your love, your support, your prayers that you have given us all. God bless you, off to Boston," John told the crowd.

He symbolically walks the start and then hands the baton to Nicole, his daughter, who was running in the race that faithful day, only a mile from the finish line when the bombs went off.

It was her husband, former pro-soccer star and now a coach for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Matt Reis, that wrapped his belt around John's leg, while her brother Don ran for help. They saved his life.

The Odom family will forever be Los Angeles' link to that day in Boston - a role they certainly didn't sign up for, but one they handle with great dignity and strength. A remarkable family who has suffered but endured and now has grown infinitely larger.


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