John and Karen Odom will head back to California on Friday.
Over nearly five months, through all the surgeries and throbbing pain, John and Karen Odom have longed to share a bottle of wine while watching the sun set from their house overlooking the ocean, inhale the minty air of their eucalyptus trees, and hug family, friends, and colleagues who have watered their plants, tended their garden, collected their mail, doted on them from afar.
John Odom, who required 11 operations after shrapnel severed arteries in each leg and lost so much blood that his heart stopped beating twice, will do something Friday he and his wife once worried would never happen: They are returning to California — the last of the Marathon bombing victims to go home.
“Going home is going back to reality, to our lives, getting back to the plans we had for our future,” John said from the suite at the Marriott Residence Inn in Charlestown, where he and his wife have stayed for the past months after nearly three months of recovering at Boston Medical Center and learning to walk again at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
While they have been literally counting the days until their return — Friday marks 143 days since they left their home south of Los Angeles to watch their daughter run the Marathon — they leave Boston with mixed emotions.
The outpouring of love went beyond anything they expected, and their gratitude is profound.
They can’t thank enough the doctors and therapists who saved John’s life and prodded him back on his feet. There was the roar of applause when they took the field recently at Fenway Park and the strangers who paid their tabs, brought them home-cooked meals, and showered them with gifts, from handmade quilts to weekly bouquets of fresh flowers. And then there are the cards, thousands of them, all of which they have kept and shipped home.
“The people of Boston have been wonderful — tremendous,” said Karen Odom, who was standing next to her husband on Boylston Street but escaped without a scratch. “We love this place and now call it our second home. We have seen the absolute best in people.”
Among those they will miss the most — aside from their daughter, son-in-law, and three grandsons, who live in Franklin — is Dr. Jeffrey Kalish, a vascular surgeon who performed 10 of the 11 operations on John Odom and whom they call their “miracle worker.”
Kalish said he is relieved Odom is healthy enough to go home, an impressively swift recovery considering how he arrived at the hospital after the bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260. In addition to the severed arteries, his sciatic nerve was destroyed and required 23 units of blood, more than twice the amount the average person has in his body. His doctors said it was the most they had ever given a patient who survived.
Odom, 65, spent 10 days on life support and lay unconscious and in critical condition for nearly three weeks. A gaping wound in his left leg prevented doctors from amputating because it was too close to his hip. Doctors questioned whether he would ever walk again, but even though he now plods along in a slow shuffle, it is hard to tell he lacks feeling in his left foot.
“He essentially died during his first operation, and the fact that the whole team was able to get him back and get him out and walking again is nothing short of a true, miraculous recovery,” Kalish said in a phone interview.
Kalish added, “In my entire vascular surgical trauma experience, John was the most critically ill patient to have survived so many extensive surgeries and then make such a meaningful recovery.”
On their last day in Boston, after packing many more bags than they arrived with in April, the Odoms were excited at the prospect of finally sleeping in their own bed again, indulging in muffins at their favorite bakery, and lounging on their deck, breathing in the salty air that sweeps off the Pacific.
Perhaps typical of Southern Californians, the high school sweethearts who have been married 46 years, as of this weekend, said they were eager to drive again, especially the new Bentley Karen bought for him as an early retirement gift.
They both plan to go back to work, and John said he planned to return to his job as chairman of the well-known mechanical contracting firm Murray Co. on Monday. “I haven’t finished what I have to do,” he said.
He will continue to get therapy for his leg near his home and follow a strict regimen of pain and antiswelling pills.
“Sometimes the pain is very sharp,” he said. “It’s usually at the end of the day, when my leg is very swollen. Karen takes my brace off and massages my leg.”
They have no plans to return for the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of planting the bombs with his brother Tamerlan, who died during a shoot-out with police in Watertown four days after the attacks.
“I don’t want to be there,” he said. “Every time I talk about him or see him, I get angry. It’s the only time I get angry. I just want to continue going forward, making people happy and showing strength.”
Their next trip to Boston will likely be for next year’s Marathon, when their nephew plans to run to honor the couple.
They will cheer for him, they said, but it is unlikely they’ll do so from the finish line. “Boylston Street seems like a dark cloud over me, but going to the halfway mark seems bright and lovely,” John Odom said.
As they said goodbye to the staff at the Marriott on Thursday, exchanging hugs and warm wishes, tears began to flow.
Friday afternoon, they plan to board a private jet a friend is sending to Hanscom Air Force Base for the six-hour flight to Los Angeles, where family and friends will escort them to a party at their nephew’s restaurant near the airport.
Friends and others have planted new flowers in front of their home and left blue and yellow ribbons on the trees in their yard.
John is already planning a trip to the golf course in his new car. “I have envisioned this moment, putting the key in the front door, for a long time now,” he said. “We’re ready to go home.”