Hawaii shark attack survivors visit bombing victims in Boston

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - By: Connie Kim

When two blasts rocked Boston, Hawaii residents watched and waited in horror, hoping the casualties would be minimal and the explosions were just an accident. As the reality sunk in that dozens of runners and fans had suffered serious and critical injuries, a handful of people living 5,000 miles from ground zero jumped into action.

"As soon as we heard about the Boston bombings and that there were many people who had lost their limbs, we immediately knew that we needed to send a team," said Katie Ancheta, executive director of Friends of Bethany.

Friends of Bethany is a non-profit organization that helps people deal with traumatic limb loss. It was founded five years after surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a tiger shark at the age of 13.

The foundation assembled a team that included folks who could relate to the victims and their families to offer support, counseling, and empathy. Among them was 33-year-old Mike Coots, who was visible from the moment he stepped into each of the four hospitals in Boston.

"I lost my leg to a tiger shark surfing on the west side of Kauai in late October in 1997. I was 18-years-old at the time, and like the Boston bombing victims, I had a bunch of questions."

When he was lying in a hospital bed, without his right leg, he didn't know what kind of life he would have and what kind of challenges he would face. The questions he had overwhelmed him, until a fellow amputee visited him and helped him feel at ease.

"A light bulb went off in my head. I will be able to walk again, and I will be able to do everything I want. Everything will work out fine," Coots said.

Fifteen and a half years later, Coots is the one reaching out to other amputees when they need hope and support.

One week after the bombings, more than a dozen victims who had lost their limbs were in need of someone. What they didn't expect is someone to show up all the way from Hawaii.

"People were baffled that we had traveled from so far away," Coots said.

Regardless of the distance, Coots couldn't be any closer to what the victims felt and the questions they had. He stopped by one woman's hospital room and immediately connected with her.

"At first, she was a bit sad and the mood was a bit somber. I started talking and looked at her injuries, realizing that it was identical to mine," Coots said.

Coots noticed that doctors had amputated her right leg below the knee, exactly where his leg was cut. As the two continued to talk, she began opening up and asking more questions about the rehabilitation process, living with a prosthetic, and just about every question he once had as a teenager fearing for the future.

"I could tell that when we left, her spirits were lifted. It felt good to help out in any way possible," Coots said.

He and the other members of his organization weren't able to visit every single victim and family member during their four-day trip, but he wanted to tell them that having lost a limb made him realize that it's not a life-ender.

"I've pretty much been able to do everything that everyone else can do. There are absolutely no limits to what you can and cannot do. Just keep your chin up, and remember--the world supports you." Coots said.

Friends of Bethany left behind their contact information and gifts to remind the victims and their families that the people of Hawaii were rooting for them. The team also invited them out to Kauai for a relaxing day on the beach.

"I do hope I hear back from them. Our foundation is here for the long term whether they need help in six months or six years. So, we're here for them," Coots said. "And I'm 100 percent positive that all of them will be back up and running in next year's marathon.

If you would like to make a donation to Friends of Bethany for the Boston victims, go to www.friendsofbethany.com.

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