Boston Marathon Photo Helps Son Find Two Injured Parents

Facebook friends helped Richard Whalley track down his parents at two hospitals.

April 18, 2013, 11:18 AM

April 18, 2013— -- Richard Whalley, a 25-year-old CEO of a company that makes medical devices for diabetics, got a frantic phone call from his older brother right after the Boston Marathon bombings. He had seen a photo on Reddit of his bloodied father being carried away in a wheelchair.

The Boston Globe/Associated Press photo had quickly gone around the world.

But when the brothers called around to hospitals, there was no record of their parents, Ann and Eric Whalley, both 65 and recently retired. In the chaos that brought 175 victims to Boston-area hospitals, the couple had been registered under the wrong names.

"There was a possibility my mom was dead," said Whalley, who lives in Cambridge, Mass. "I knew she was older and pretty close to the blast."

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Boston Marathon Explosion

Whalley immediately posted a message on his Facebook page: "This is my dad in the picture in this link: I have no idea where my mum is. They were both bombed. I'm trying to figure out what hospital they are at. Can you help?"

And help they did. Within 10 minutes Facebook friends -- and friends of friends -- made calls to each hospital and found his parents at two different medical centers. Ann Whalley was at Brigham and Women's Faulkner campus at Harvard Medical School; Eric Whalley was at the Longwood campus in Jamaica Plain.

"It was amazing," said Whalley, who talked to early today after just three hours sleep last night. "Multiple people called the hospitals. The third time they got a call [at Brigham and Women's] they decided to double check the records."

"They got hit pretty bad," he said.

Brigham and Women's Hospital has treated a total of 35 patients related to Monday's explosions. Ten patients remain in the hospital and four are listed in critical condition.

The Whalleys, who are hikers and like to walk around the city, were at the marathon finish line when the bombs exploded.

In the last three days, the couple has had nearly a dozen surgeries between them to remove multiple ball bearings and nails. Eric Whalley was hit in the skull and eye and may lose his sight and perhaps have brain damage. Ann Whalley got hit in the legs and has a badly mangled right foot.

"They were just there to see the action," said their son. "They did last year, as well. They were both runners and are pretty active for their age."

Just yesterday, his mother was moved to the Longwood campus on the same ward as his father, making life easier for the brothers. The hospital gave the Whalley brothers an apartment so they can be close to their parents.

His brother Chris, 34, lives in Salisbury, Mass., close to the New Hampshire border.

"My Dad had multiple surgeries but they are monitoring him closely to make sure everything has stabilized," he said.

His father had a blood clot on one side of his brain. He also had orthopedic surgery on his right leg. "The feet are in especially bad shape," said Whalley. "Part of the right foot was blown off."

In 1990, his parents emigrated from England to Colorado and eventually got U.S. citizenship. They moved to Charlestown, Mass., in 1998. A former professor of pharmacology, Eric Whalley had just retired from a job in biotechnology.

Just Wednesday night, Whalley had a conversation with his father, who gained consciousness for the first time.

"He was just barely talking, but he was understanding what we said," according to his son. "I told him his photo was on the front page of the Daily Mail [a newspaper in Britain.] He started laughing."

Ann Whalley is in worse shape. She is still on a respirator with more damage to tissue than to bone. "She is out of shock now," he said. "Most of the damage is to her foot. They had to do reconstruction and it's unclear whether or not she'll have mobility. She has to have another surgery."

Whalley has been struck by the kindness of others -- but equally impressed with the power of social media and crowd sharing sites.

Within hours of the bombings, friends from Whalley's alma mater, MIT, had set up a page on the website GiveForward to help his parents with their medical expenses. They both will require at least two more weeks of hospitalization and extensive rehabilitation, treatment that could send costs into the "millions," he said.

Any extra funds will go to help other victims' families, he said.

"The Internet had a really important role in how our story played out and how we could respond to the crisis," said Whalley.

"I mean it's been pretty surreal," he said. "But we've had a lot of support from the community. One of the messages of this story is these online tools are available to people to go and aid others in the recovery process. Getting help can sometimes be overwhelming."

Whalley finds his own strength through the support of others. "You just do the things you can to help and try to keep the faith," he said. "It's been really difficult for a lot of people, but the community has come together to help. There are a lot of positive things that come out of this."

To learn more and to help victims with their medical bills go to GiveForward.

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