Marathon bombing survivor shares story of friendship, healing, and resilience in ‘Perfect Strangers’

From left: Shores Salter, Shana Cottone, Roseann Sdoia, and Mike Materia in November 2014.
From left: Shores Salter, Shana Cottone, Roseann Sdoia, and Mike Materia in November 2014. –Courtesy of PublicAffairs

Excerpted from “Perfect Strangers: Friendship, Strength, and Recovery after Boston’s Worst Day” by Roseann Sdoia with Jennifer Jordan. Reprinted by permission from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

About two weeks after Marathon Monday 2013, I was beginning to feel human again. Mike Materia, the fireman who transferred me to Mass General and now my fiancé, and a few of my friends took to social media to see if they could find the guy who had held the belt on my leg on Boylston Street. Having established a GoFundMe page to help offset the avalanche of medical bills coming my way, my friends posted on the site that I was looking for my “Guardian Angel.” With the miracle that is now our social-media world, within minutes some random stranger posted a picture of Shores Salter holding the tourniquet, and another friend, Carla, then reposted it on Twitter’s #Boston.com page with the plea “Please help me locate this Good Samaritan who helped saved my friend Roseann’s life.” When Kathy Curran, who had interviewed me the week before, saw the post, she reposted it to WCVB’s more than one hundred thousand followers on Twitter. The results were nearly instantaneous.

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At his parent’s house in Reading, Shores’s phone buzzed into life with a stream of incoming texts and calls. “Dude! Were you at the marathon? Someone is posting a picture that looks a lot like you. A woman is trying to find her first responder.” Soon television camera crews were arriving at his front door, and his name, face, and phone number were flashing on my computer screen.

And with that, I had found him. Later that night, my hands shook as I held the phone, listening to it ring somewhere across town.

“Hello?”

My tears came before my words. Through all of the screams and sirens and panicky voices that I remember that day, his strong, calm voice was unmistakable. I had found the kid who had saved my life.

“Shores? This is Roseann.”

• • •

Two days later, my room was unusually crowded. It was Saturday, almost three weeks after the bombing and two days after I had first spoken to Shores on the phone, and my entire world seemed drawn to Room 514. Mom, Dad, my sister Gia, her husband Patrick, my uncle and aunt, Mike, Shana Cottone, the Boston police officer who helped get me to Mass General, my girlfriends. They all wanted to meet Shores.

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Around 2:00 the room quieted and the crowd parted, and there he was, a shy smile on his face. I reached up as Shores approached the bed, and he leaned in carefully to give me a hug. But the hug lingered, neither of us wanting to let go, and he sat down gently to make it easier for me to hold on. I don’t remember ever crying that easily or happily in my life. But that day, that wonderful, wondrous day when Shores reentered my life, I did.

Sdoia meeting Shores Salter for the first time since the bombing at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. —Courtesy of PublicAffairs

When we finally pulled away, I saw that most eyes in the room were also wet, even stoic Mike’s and Shana’s, as well as Shores’ parents, whom he introduced all around. Bob Salter told me later that it was at that moment that he saw Shores’ “funk,” as he called it, the two weeks of dark and angry gloom that had settled on his son like a heavy coat, lift. And when it did, a smile returned to Shores’ face. Bob reached out and took Lorraine’s hand: their son was coming back. He’d be all right.

When all the introductions had been made, Lorraine came over to the side of my bed.

“Thank you for saving my son’s life.”

I looked up at her in astonishment. “What do you mean? He saved my life!”

Lorraine shook her head slowly and smiled. “No, I mean for finding him. He was lost before getting your call, and we weren’t able to reach him.” She looked across the room to where Shores and Gia were talking, my sister wiping tears from her eyes. “Now,” Lorraine continued, “it all makes sense. He didn’t want to talk about it until he knew if you were okay. Now I think he’ll be able to tell us what happened.”

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Oh, my God, I thought, he hasn’t told them what he did.

I too looked over at Shores, amazed that the one person who actually had saved my life was the last one to take credit for it.

After he left my room, Shores stopped to properly meet Mike and Shana. Mike clearly remembered the moment on Boylston Street when Shores stepped away from the paddy wagon and the look of pure horror in the young man’s eyes. But he also remembered how utterly calm Shores had been. While he was definitely in shock, he was nonetheless unwaveringly in charge of the scene. Mike never questioned for a moment that this kid, whoever he was, knew what he was doing. When he learned that Shores was a twenty-year-old undergrad with absolutely no emergency training, he was floored. He didn’t know anything about this kid, but he knew the world needed more just like him.

He put his hand on Shores’ shoulder and said, “You did an amazing job holding that tourniquet. Listen, if you need to talk to someone about this, you can call me, okay? Anytime.” Shores smiled and nodded but didn’t speak. Shana also gave Shores a reassuring embrace.

The story of just what Shores had done in finding me on the street, carrying me to safety, and applying the tourniquet and pressure that saved my life had come out in fits and starts to his family as he struggled through the reality of the situation into which he had been thrust. Bob told me that as a wannabe doctor himself, when he heard that Shores, without any training or experience, had jumped in and done exactly the right thing to save a life, he was stunned. Shores was the hero. Bob had always cherished his son, of course, but after that he saw him with new clarity and new respect.

With Shores finally there, I had looked up at him, Shana, and Mike. It was odd. These three people were really strangers to me; I hadn’t known any of them longer than a couple of weeks or spoken more than a few words to them. I barely remembered their names. I had entered Mike into my iPhone contacts as “Matt,” even though he had been at the hospital nearly every day. I was still so foggy. And yet, as I lay there, fighting the pain and dull thudding in my head from all the drugs, I felt as comfortable with these three people as with the members of my family who stood nearby. I also realized I felt something else, something that was even better than comfort: safety.

From that moment on, my hospital room felt different, as if we all went from being survivors of a tragedy to comrades after the battle is won. People laughed more freely, and those who had been strangers the day before now hugged and kissed and slapped each other on the back. Even Mom got into it, wrapping them all in her newly instituted bear hugs—Shana, Shores, and Mike—especially Mike.

Shores wasn’t the only one for whom a cloud had been lifted. We all felt it, as well as a sense of peace from simply being together.

Excerpted from “Perfect Strangers: Friendship, Strength, and Recovery after Boston’s Worst Day” by Roseann Sdoia with Jennifer Jordan. Reprinted by permission from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

—Courtesy of PublicAffairs