It’s not hard to understand why Jessica Kensky, who lost her legs in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, describes the tragic attack in 2013 as the “worst thing that’s ever happened to her.” But one might not expect her to also call it one of the best.
“I miss my legs everyday, but I had never felt this collective love and support from total strangers. But all of us became recipients of this incredible ocean of love and support, and it didn’t stop,” Kensky tells PEOPLE. “Patrick [Downes, her husband] gave this amazing speech — it was something like, we hope that none of you experience the pain that we experienced, but we hope all of you at one point feel as loved as we’ve felt.”
The young married couple were enjoying a day off back in April of 2013 when two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Both Kensky and Downes lost legs, and Kensky’s other leg was eventually amputated as well.
Three-and-a-half years after the attacks, Kensky has spent so much time in surgical wards that she doesn’t bother counting how many surgeries she’s had. “For me, it’s not been helpful. I feel like with the numbers, it wouldn’t summarize this journey,” says Kensky. “The answer I give is that it’s been three-and-a-half years and I have them on a regular basis.”
Every day has proven to be a challenge for Kensky, who still seeks to find the same baseline as her husband. The couple live at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland, where they plan on staying until Kensky is stronger.
“Being an amputee, I would say, the best case is that you’re always uncomfortable. If you’re not having a major issue or having a problem with your socket, you’re uncomfortable, but it can quickly go to pain if you have a blister or a sore or something not fitting right,” Kensky tells PEOPLE. “It’s always kind of a very delicate dance.”
One source of great relief is the couple’s disability-assistance dog, Rescue, who can do everything from turning off lights and shutting doors to fetching the phone and even bracing if Jessica falls. But it’s the stress and trauma he alleviates that Kensky is most grateful for.
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“The first night he stayed at our place, six to seven months after the bombing, she slept through the night,” says Downes. “It was like a magic drug.”
Kensky and Downes credit lots of therapy, both individually and as a couple, to helping them sustain a healthy marriage. But it’s their “Boylston Street Family,” the group of fellow survivors from the attacks, who gives them a true sense of community.
“We’re all around the same age, but very different,” says Downes. “We wouldn’t normally have crossed paths, but we feel this incredible bond with each other. They do really feel like family, especially because we’ve experienced this very unique event.”