Editor’s note: In honor of Veterans Day, November 11, the
Bulletin is proud to publish this article about two victims
of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings who received care
at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda,
MD, and found solidarity among the veterans who were
receiving care at the facility.
The prospect of being treated for their blast wounds at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD, gave civilians
Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes a reason for
hope—a feeling the newlyweds needed after they
both required traumatic amputations from injuries sustained at the Boston Marathon bombing
on April 15, 2013. They did have some concerns,
“I was nervous about coming to Walter Reed
A veteran reaches out
for treatment,” Mr. Downes said. “I was very cau-
tious because this place exists for veterans who
have made a purposeful decision to do something
for their country. We didn’t make that sacrifice.
We just happened to be in the wrong place at the
wrong time. I didn’t want anyone to think we were
taking advantage of the services that are available
These worries proved unfounded, according to
Benjamin Kyle Potter, MD, FACS, orthopaedic sur-
geon, Walter Reed, and F. Edward Hebert Associate
Professor, Uniformed Services University of the
Health Sciences, Bethesda, who has provided care
and guidance to the young couple since they arrived
at the hospital. “I can tell you that they have been
welcomed with open arms,” he said. “There is abso-
lutely no resentment that their injuries didn’t come
from the battlefield. They have become an impor-
tant part of our rehab group.” Dr. Potter noted that
the couple has joined wounded service members at
several events, including bike races.
The couple wound up at Walter Reed thanks in part to
the efforts of retired U.S. Army Captain Ferris Butler.
Captain Butler, who lost both legs after his vehicle
struck a roadside bomb in Iraq, watched televised coverage of the Boston bombing from Walter Reed and
wondered how he could help the victims.
“I saw the first reports from Boston, and I knew
immediately that this explosion was not an accident,”
Captain Butler said. “My first thought was, ‘How can
I help?’” He learned through an acquaintance that
Jessica’s sister, Sarah, was completing an internship
at Walter Reed while studying at Boston University.
Through this connection, Captain Butler and Jessica
arranged to talk via Skype. Jessica worried that she
would have nothing in common with someone who
had made a sacrifice on behalf of his country and represented his family’s ninth generation of military service.
To her surprise, they spoke openly for three hours. She
learned not only that they shared many of the same
anxieties, but also that someone who lost both legs
was able to lead a full, purposeful life.
“Connecting with Jessica felt full circle to me. I
wanted so badly to help someone,” Captain Butler
said. “Now I had a specific person with a specific
need and injury that was similar to my own.” The
Captain was the first to introduce the couple to
military programs that grant Secretarial Designee
status to civilians, providing them with services
through the nation’s military health care system.
“I don’t have much to compare with Walter Reed,
since I was extremely healthy before my injury,”
said Captain Butler. “But the care I received at
Walter Reed was second to none. No expenses are
spared for veterans, and nothing is left uncovered.”
Thanks to Captain Butler’s persistence, along
with support from family, friends, and a number
of elected officials, Mr. Downes and Ms. Kensky
Captain Butler and Jessica arranged to talk via Skype.... To her
surprise, they spoke openly for three hours. She learned not only
that they shared many of the same anxieties, but also that someone
who lost both legs was able to lead a full, purposeful life.