Jessica Kensky and her new husband, Patrick Downes, were running together at the 2013 Boston Marathon when the bombing happened.
Both of Kenskey’s legs were amputated.
Downes, a doctoral student and marathoner, lost his left leg.
The aftermath has included too many surgeries and too many dark days to count. They lived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for three years.
Over time, Kensky, now 36, has found that a few things brought her joy. One was her service dog, Rescue. Another was working on the surprising project she and her husband had settled on as a way to tell the world her story: a children’s book.
Working on the book started to help pull Kensky out of her hopelessness, she says.
“Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship” is a window into Kensky’s challenges and ongoing recovery, written in terms kids can understand and not be afraid of. It’s a meditation on kindness, acceptance and loyalty. And in the end it’s a story about hope.
The book, aimed at kids ages 5 to 9, shows the relationship between a fictional tween girl named Jessica who lost her legs, and her service dog Rescue. The story unfolds as the two nervously meet and form a bond, and eventually come to rely on and, as the book says, “rescue” each other. The book does not mention the bombing or say how the character’s legs were injured.
This is a second wave of celebrity for Rescue, who won ASPCA’s Dog of the Year award last year.
When Downes was wounded, he was in his last semester earning a doctorate in clinical psychology with a specialty working with children. He says his interactions with them, particularly their honest and thought-provoking questions about his artificial limb, has reminded him that he still has “a gift to share with children.”
“It’s a totally new experience for them,” Downes said. “We would invite them to explore our prosthetics, and it demystifies it for them. The instant they’d touch it, they would smile because it isn’t scary anymore because you’ve allowed them to understand it. While adults might discriminate based on disability, kids welcome it. They think it’s cool.”
The illustrator, Scott Magoon, was running the marathon during the bombing, and while he was not wounded physically, he suffered emotionally from the trauma of the attack, he has said.
Kensky, Downes and Magoon bonded over the book, as all three were committed to making the illustrations as realistic as possible, from the prosthetics and wheelchairs to the scenes of the city, including Boston Common and Fenway Park. There’s also a page in the book that shows the Boston Public Garden footbridge, where Kensky and Downes got engaged.
The couple says they’re proud of the book they’ve made together. They hope people respond well to it, both kids and adults.
They have a tour planned for April when the book comes out, and they have already started speaking with groups of kids about the book.
“It’s cool to see where little minds are going,” Kensky said. “Leaving those talks, we always feel so good.”