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Boston Marathon Bombing Survivors Create Global Healing Charity

BOSTON (CBS) -- Survivors of the marathon bombings often say that the support they received from the community was key to their recovery.

Survivor Dave Fortier suffered hearing loss and shrapnel wounds.  The five-time Boston Marathoner remembers the outpouring of kindness that reminded him he wasn't alone. "You could feel the goodness show through.  And it showed many of us that there's so much good in the world than bad."

One group that was particularly helpful—and involved--was the Semper Fi Fund.  The wounded Marines, some of whom are amputees, visited bombing survivors in their hospital rooms—reassuring them that, while there would be a "new normal," things would get better.  It made an indelible impression.

Fortier explains, "It's one thing for a doctor to tell you you're going to be okay… or a family member or therapist. It's quite another when somebody comes in and has similar injuries."

Dave Fortier
Dave Fortier (WBZ-TV)

Beyond the initial visits, members of the Semper Fi Fund made it clear that the bonds they shared with bombing survivors would last for life. Five years later, the friendships are stronger than ever.  Marines return to run the Boston Marathon. Bombing survivors travel to Washington, DC to run the Marines Corps Marathon and other races.

That connection also planted a seed.

Fortier and bombing survivors Celeste Corcoran and Michelle L'Hereux have founded the non-profit One World Strong—a global platform for survivors to help people who have experienced similar trauma.  Survivors helping survivors.  The group just got its 501c3 status and is working to make communities aware it exists.  "These are stories of resilience and we want to get them out to people," Fortier said.

They witnessed the healing power of connection—repeatedly—after leaving the hospital.  Once bombing survivors could travel, some embarked on a thank you tour.  They received so many cards, letters, gifts and donations that they decided to visit people who had invested in their recovery.  What was supposed to be a one-hour meeting with families of victims in Newtown, Connecticut turned into a 16-hour experience.  Everyone in the room could feel it—a sense of understanding, compassion, and love.

The bond that forms between trauma survivors, Fortier said, is amazing.  "I might not know somebody.  But if I know something they've experienced that's very similar, it's like we've known each other for 20 years, it's just people connecting with people.  You talk about things you might not be able to talk about with somebody else but that you need to talk about."

While meeting with a group in Chicago in June of 2016, Fortier's phone suddenly "lit up like a Christmas tree."  Marathon bombing survivors had heard the news of a devastating nightclub shooting in Orlando. "It was people back here in Boston who wanted to go to Orlando and do the same thing for the folks there that the Marines did for us."

Working with the cities of Boston and Orlando and Orlando Health hospital, Fortier and a group of survivors--including One World Strong co-founders Corcoran and L'Hereux,--flew to Orlando.

The connections were instantaneous. Fortier remembers the moment Corcoran walked into Angel Colon's hospital room. Colon, a Framingham native, had been shot multiple times.  "I was watching it happen.  Nothing was really said.  It was just a hug.  And there was that connection."

Michelle L'Hereux
Michelle L'Hereux (WBZ-TV)

Michelle L'Hereux remembered the sense of loneliness she felt after the bombing—despite a strong, loving support network.  While it was painful to see the Pulse nightclub victims suffering the fear and sadness she knew all too well, she was grateful to have the opportunity to help.  "To be able to walk into a room and talk to someone and say—it's going to get better, it's going to get easier, it helps them.  And selfishly, it helps me.  It makes me feel that what I went through wasn't for nothing.  That maybe I can turn around and do something good with it. I am not going to let terrorism destroy my life.  And that, when I'm having a bad day, gives me a fierce determination."

That sense of determination and gratitude came full-circle sixteen months later when Angel Colon joined Fortier in Las Vegas to comfort victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting.

Members of One World Strong have also visited survivors in Manchester, London, Paris, and Quebec City.  They are in contact with survivors in Mogadishu.  The goal is to build a platform wide enough to be able to help people anywhere in the world. The idea is simple—connecting people in the spirit of support.  The logistics—traveling, technology and navigating criminal investigations—is more complicated.

One World Strong is working with municipalities, police departments, the embassy community, and the State Department.

The group's official launch is Thursday, March 29th at Fenway Park.  The event—bringing together survivors and victims' family members from around the world—is also a fundraiser.

L'Hereux, who suffered hearing loss, blast wounds, and shrapnel injuries, said there isn't a day that she doesn't think of the marathon bombing.  But she now also thinks about the incredible network of support that exists for her and other survivors.  She hopes, one day, there will be a worldwide community of friends to help ease the pain. "Maybe you're having a bad day. Something triggers you, you know you can call someone in the One World Strong community to brighten up your day and make you feel less lonely."


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