Marathon Bombing Survivor got Back in the Race with Help from Her Southcoast Health Primary Care Provider

Michele Blackburn’s life changed forever at 2:49 p.m. on April 15, 2013.

That was when a terrorist’s bomb exploded just feet from where she was standing on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Blackburn was waiting for her roommate and best friend, Erin, to finish the race. The blast from the first of two bombs planted among the crowd of spectators knocked her off her feet, severely damaging both legs and feet. The injuries to her left leg were so severe that surgeons initially thought they might have to amputate.

“I was in shock, and when I looked around all I could see were injured people around me,” she said.

She would spend about four weeks recovering from her injuries and surgeries and learning to walk again. When she was discharged from a Boston Hospital, she went to live with her parents in Oxford for five months.

She underwent rehabilitation to strengthen leg muscles that had atrophied, returned to her job in the admissions office of the former Wheelock College (where faculty and staff donated their sick and vacation time so that she never went a day without pay during her recovery), and married her fiancé Jim, whom she had started dating just before the marathon bombing.

She became a devoted Peloton cyclist and ultimately started running despite swelling from lymphedema that resulted from the extensive tissue damage to her legs.

Meanwhile, she needed a primary care doctor to oversee her care and found one in 2015 not far from Freetown, where she lived during her engagement: Southcoast Health primary care provider, Dr. Felicia Barreto, who practices at the Truesdale Health office in Fall River.

“It was such a relief having somebody I trusted at my side,” Blackburn said. “She doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and she sticks with things until she is satisfied. I absolutely trust her.”

So, when Michele decided that she wanted to run the Boston Marathon herself in 2023 on the 10th anniversary of the Marathon bombing, she turned to Barreto to recommend a sports medicine specialist. Twice a week, she had therapy and rehabilitation for the lymphedema and was able to continue marathon training, while caring for her two young children and working as an adviser to college admissions offices.

Then, just days before the 2023 race, Michele began feeling a new pain during a light run and told Barreto, who sent her for tests. Results revealed she had suffered a pelvic stress fracture during training, and she had to drop her plans to run that year’s marathon.

It was a big disappointment, but it didn’t stop her; and as soon as she could, she was back in training to compete in the 2024 race. It wasn’t easy, and the lymphedema in her legs had to be managed carefully as she trained.

“It was a hard year,” she said. “It was a mental as well as a physical challenge.”

But when Patriots Day 2024 rolled around, Michele Blackburn was among the 30,000 runners who started the race. And when she crossed the finish line 26.2 miles later, her husband, family and best friend Erin were there waiting for her.

“I was lucky to run this year,” she said. “The anniversary is always a difficult day, but now it means something different.”

Much of the credit goes to the skilled medical care she has received in the years since the bombing. And for the past nine years, Blackburn has been able to count on Dr. Barreto, her Southcoast Health primary care provider, to manage her care. In fact, Michele, who now lives in Uxbridge, happily takes the 45-minute drive to see Dr. Barreto.

Michele offered this advice to anyone looking to establish a productive relationship with a primary care provider: “Find someone who treats you with kindness, listens to you and makes you feel like you are their only patient when you’re with them — someone who is willing to go above and beyond for your health throughout all the different stages of your life and takes any concerns you bring up seriously. Find someone you can trust.” 

That’s what she has found in Dr. Barreto.

“I can’t say enough good things about her. She has made such a difference in my life,” Michele said.