accessibility & help

A marathon recovery

Resilience isn't always about bouncing back. Returning to where you were before an incident is sometimes not an option. 

That is true for the Corcoran family, a mother and daughter who sustained horrific injuries in the Boston Marathon bombing one year ago in April 2013. 

Thanks to prompt first aid, they both survived. In the months afterwards they recovered from operations and learnt to readjust to new, changed lives. Explore their journey. 

Learning objectives

By the end of this activity students will be able to:

  • Describe the benefits of staying calm in a crisis and share techniques for staying calm. 
  • Identify what they think the biggest practical and emotional challenges will be for a severely injured person returning home from hospital and suggest ways that friends and neighbours might help.

Calm in a crisis

Say to students that they are about to see a photograph of someone's life being saved. Their task is to describe what is happening and what techniques are being used and why in as much detail as they can. Do this in small groups or as individuals.

Show the photograph. After time for thought, share responses. Clarify that the image was taken at last year's Boston Marathon bombing. The injured person is 17-year-old Sydney Corcoran. 

Those helping were strangers, Matt Smith (left) and Zach Mione. They knew to apply pressure to the wound to reduce the bleeding. See how they used available cloths or t-shirts. Note also how they work together, keeping calm, talking to Sydney and reassuring her. At the same time, they are watching out for medical assistance. 

"I just held her hand, asking her to squeeze my hand, as I held rags, shirts, whatever I could to the gaping wound in her right leg," Matt Smith later told reporters. 

She asked several times, "Will I be all right?" Matt reassured her repeatedly. "We were worried," he said later. "But we just tried not to show it."

Ask students to think about a time that they have been worried but tried not to show it. How helpful is it for themselves and others to keep calm? What techniques do they have for staying calm? Invite them to share these as a group. 

Shrapnel severely damaged Sydney's right foot and her femoral artery, causing massive blood loss which could have been fatal, but wasn't, thanks to the first aid. 

Sydney's mother, Celeste, was also badly injured. They had been standing together at the marathon finish line, waiting for Celeste's sister who was running the race. Celeste lost both legs, one at knee level, the other below. 

Ask students if they know what they should do if someone is bleeding heavily from a wound? 

First aid advice is to: 

  • Put pressure on the wound with whatever is available 
  • Call 999 for an ambulance
  • Keep pressure on the wound until help arrives

Ask students to design a poster which highlights these key first aid actions for dealing with wounds.

What if there is an object, such as a piece of shrapnel, still inside the wound?

  • Leave the object where it is
  • Control bleeding by pressing firmly on either side of the embedded object
  • Call 999
  • Maintain pressure around the wound until help arrives

Home from hospital

After the bombing, both women had prolonged stays in hospital. Surgery and physiotherapy helped them get mobile again. 

Ask students to imagine their first day home from hospital. Invite students to discuss in small groups then complete the sentences:

  • I think the biggest practical challenge for Celeste at home would be...
  • I think the biggest emotional challenge for Celeste and her family would be...

Reflect on the responses. If you were a friend or neighbour, what might you be able to do to help, either practically or emotionally? Which is more difficult? Remember that just listening, carefully and thoughtfully, can be a tremendous help to people. You don't have to provide answers - in fact, it's sometimes better not to try. Talk about why this is.

New legs

Celeste Corcoran was fitted with prostheses - artificial legs. 

Show students the photograph - Sydney watches her mother take her first steps with her "new legs".

BOSTON JUNE 20 Celeste Corcoran walks on her two new prostheses after losing both legs in the first Boston Marathon bombing© Info

"When I got these legs, I was almost expecting a miracle," Mrs. Corcoran later told reporters. "But it's still so hard, so hard." 

Ask students to write a caption for the photograph using at least two of the following words:

Determination, independence, pain, strength, expectations, struggle, frustration, sadness, anger, setback, attitude, exertion, pressure, lonely, normality, resilience, loss.

Direct students who wish to explore more to this news article.

"Boston Strong"

Boston has a slogan, "Boston Strong", showing defiance in the face of adversity.

Who thinks this helps? Might it be an unwelcome pressure?

Celeste Corcoran says mostly she stays positive. "But there are days when I'm crying, I'm having a tough time, and I'm in pain."

She accepts you need to feel strong, but not to the point where you can't show your emotions or pretend that nothing ever gets you down. 

Ask students to rewrite, or add to, the Boston Strong slogan in the light of this.


This resource was written by PJ White of alt62 and published in April 2014.


Subscribe to Newsthink

Girl among group of other students

Enter your email to get free, topical teaching ideas delivered straight to your inbox.

Related resources

Give young people the skills and confidence to help in a first aid emergency.

Someone’s crying and distressed. You want to help. Find out how.