The first chapter of Boston Marathon bombing victim Erika Brannock's recovery ended Tuesday when she hoisted herself from a wheelchair into the passenger seat of a silver Honda CR-V and her mother drove out of the Kernan Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation parking lot.
After 65 days of hospitalization and inpatient physical therapy, the 29-year-old preschool teacher moved into her mother and stepfather's Monkton home while she adjusts to a "new normal." Her left leg was amputated above the knee, and she underwent more than 10 surgeries to save her right leg.
Brannock said she felt overwhelmed with emotion as she left Kernan.
"They tell you rehab is tough, but it's an understatement," she said. "They really push you further than you think you can go. And they really just help you to strive to be better, and you do things you don't think you can do originally."
Brannock returned to Baltimore two weeks ago. She was the last of the bombing victims to be discharged from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston after the April 15 attack.
Brannock had been waiting at the finish line for her mother, Carol Downing, to complete the 26.2-mile race. Brannock was injured along with her sister and brother-in-law, Nicole and Michael Gross.
Both Brannock and Nicole Gross are Mount Hebron High School graduates. The Grosses, who live in Charlotte, N.C., have returned home.
Downing wasn't injured.
Next for Brannock is outpatient therapy two to three times a week and a couple of surgeries to strengthen her right leg before she can wear a prosthetic. Her goal is to walk on crutches by September.
"I haven't figured out what my new normal is yet," she said. "I am still going to be teaching. I have to finish up my master's in the fall, and I'll be … going back into roles I had before — being a friend, a teacher and a daughter."
Roetisha Hopkins, an aide at Kernan, said Brannock is committed to her recovery.
"She's not letting it hinder her from anything she can do," Hopkins said. "She is pushing, striving for better."
Brannock said she intends to return to teaching in the coming months and finish her master's in early childhood education by May. She plans to work at Davenport Preschool in Hampton when it opens in the fall, helping with administrative work, substitute teaching and perhaps teaching gym.
"Everyone tells me how strong I am, but a lot of it comes from the support I get from my family and friends and people I don't know," Brannock said. Her family has been overwhelmed by the community's support, she said.
"I appreciate everything that everyone has done for me," she said.
Her aunt and uncle, Debbie and Ronnie Atkinson of Laurel, called Tuesday "a good day."
"We didn't know if she was alive when the bomb went off, and to see 60-some days later, her finally getting out of the hospital, it's very emotional," Ronnie Atkinson said. "We don't know what's in store, but I am confident what is in store is blessings."
A fund has been established to help Erika Brannock with her lifelong medical expenses. To help, go to thebrannockfund.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun