Stepping Strong Center ‘Turning Tragedy Into Hope' After Boston Marathon Bombings

The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation opened officially in January 2017 in Brigham and Women's Hospital

With her contagious smile and sparkling spirit, you would never know what 23-year-old Gillian Reny has been through over the past five years.

"Looking back on that day, I never thought that it would be possible for me to get back to living normally," she said.

Reny's life changed forever on April 15, 2013 — the day she was seriously injured during the Boston Marathon bombings.

"I think when it first happened, it was really hard to look into the future too much, and we were really living day by day," she said.

A life-long dancer, Reny was unable to walk after shrapnel had torn through her right leg.

Stepping strong when Reny couldn't was her family — teaming up with some of the doctors, nurses and physical therapists at Brigham and Women's Hospital who eventually helped get her back on her feet.

"At night, when we were just reflecting on her caregivers, we knew we wanted to do something to thank them," said Gillian's mom, Audrey Epstein Reny.

As the "Stepping Strong" marathon team, they have been raising millions of dollars for innovative trauma research, eventually opening The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation inside the hospital.

"Honestly, it's almost beyond words to be able to see that we've had a small part in funding some incredible clinical innovations that are now changing other people's lives for the better," Audrey Epstein Reny said.

It has led to innovative research, like using 3-D printing to help patients with traumatic muscle injuries like Gillian Reny's.

"One of the things we're looking into is using scaffolds, or what's essentially just an external kind of plate that cells can grow into, to try to promote muscles to heal better than they do normally," said Dr. Indranil Sinha.

Sinha says the hope is to prevent scarring and allow the muscle to regenerate.

"The whole goal is to see a patient walk out of the hospital that wouldn't have been able to do it otherwise, and that's why we do this," said Sinha.

They are helping other patients to step strong just like Gillian Reny — now a college graduate, working and living independently in New York.

"Her resiliency, her inspirational drive to push forward no matter what obstacle comes her way, I think that that is the essence of what Stepping Strong represents," Audrey Epstein Reny said.

"My mom always likes to say it's turning that tragedy into hope, and I think that's exactly what it's doing," Gillian Reny said.

Over the past five years, Stepping Strong has raised more than $13 million, with the goal of raising $1 million more with this year's marathon team.

Contact Us