Bombing survivor gives back by helping accident victim walk once again

NEWTON, Massachusetts (NEWS CENTER) -- It's been nearly a year since Karen Rand's life changed forever. A terrorist's bomb tore through her body near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Not only did she lose her left leg, but her best friend, Krystle Campbell, too.

In the days, weeks and months since the attack, Rand has benefitted from the kindness of countless strangers. From the medical technicians and bystanders that helped stabilize her in those initial moments of chaos, to the doctors who helped save her life, to the people from all walks that donated money to help pay for her medical expenses or provided a shoulder to cry on, she has had help every step of the way.

Now, she is paying it forward, by helping a family shattered by a tragedy of their own.

"This is, by far, the most amazing thing that has happened to me," exclaimed Rand. "As excited as she is, were probably even more excited, because we know how it is going to change her life."

Melissa Estefania Salinas Pleitez was with her aunt getting some food in El Congo, Santa Ana, El Salvador on August 11, 2013, when a race car hurtled out of control into the crowd striking her and three other people. The car pinned her against another vehicle, mangling her legs.

Medical personnel rushed to save her life, and they were forced to amputate her right leg above the knee. Her body was covered in burns from battery acid. She was in a coma and was lucky to survive.

When Mauricio Quiroga heard about the young girl's injuries, and the lack of financial and medical resources available to her, he decided to help as best he could.

"When I saw her picture, there was no going back," he admitted.

A furniture store owner in Somerville, Massachusetts, he was seeking ways to assist, when as luck would have it, Karen Rand and her boyfriend, Kevin McWatters, wandered into his store.

At first he hesitated to ask for help, but decided it was worth a chance.

Together with Quiroga, Rand and McWatters eagerly sought out advice and resources to bring Estefania to the U.S. in an effort to help her walk again.

After months of effort, and countless conversations, not only were they able to bring her and her mother to Boston, but they also were able to get her medical care and a place to stay at Shriner's Hospital and a prosthetic leg from Next Step Bionics and Prosthetics in Newton.

"It gives me great joy to see these people finally have something this good happen to them from something that bad," said Quiroga.

On Thursday, Estefania was wheeled into the Next Step offices to get fitted for her prosthetic. The 14 year old hadn't walked since her accident last August.

"I'm really excited about the thought of her walking out of here, and what that will do for a girl like that," stated Matt Albuquerque, president and founder of Next Step.

He said it took a few seconds before he agreed to donate the roughly $15,000 prosthetic leg and become involved in helping Estefania regain her life.

"When you hear all the aspects of this story, it adds up to let's do what we can," he said.

Technicians worked with Estefania all morning, taking measurements, pouring up molds and creating an initial prosthetic to use to help her learn how to walk again. By late afternoon, they had created a device custom made for her.

After making some adjustments, Estefania rose to her feet, standing with the aid of parallel bars for support. With the room full of strangers that had helped her get this far, she took her first step. The room erupted in applause. Her mother, Claudia, wept in delight.

"She has no words to express how much people have done for her," Estefania said through a translator.

There is a long way to go in her recovery, with months of physical therapy and surgery on her other 'good' leg yet to be endured, but thanks to strangers who felt a desire to help, Estefania is taking strides toward living a normal life once again.

Estefania still faces many challenges in her recovery, and will need additional financial support to help cover her mecial expenses in the future.

Her family and friends have set up a fund to help cover those costs. Any and all donations are greatly appreciated.


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