The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor completes her Doctor of Nursing degree at the Boston graduate school’s Commencement 2024 ceremony

When Jessica Kensky walked across the graduation stage with her service dog, Rescue, it was the culmination of a successful journey that she couldn’t have imagined 11 years ago.

In 2013, Kensky lost both her legs during the Boston Marathon bombing. Already an oncology nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, she battled through multiple surgeries over several years and returned to work. And as if that was not enough, she enrolled in the MGH Institute’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program. 

“It certainly was a family affair, with Mass General and the IHP providing so much help to get me here today plus Patrick and my family,” said a smiling Kensky, referencing spouse Patrick Downes, who lost one leg in the attack. “Everyone was just determined to make this happen for me with their support and being so flexible. There were a lot of really hard times and it took a whole community of people to get me through. I’m so grateful.”

That support began with Jeanette Ives Erickson, who was vice president for patient care and chief nurse at MGH when Kensky was injured. It was Ives Erickson, who is now chair of the MGH Institute Board of Trustees, who urged Kensky to forge ahead as she moved from being a patient at Mass General and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital before resuming working as a nurse.

“We always learn from patients, right?” said Ives Erickson, who helped get Kensky a scholarship to attend the IHP. “And we learn from each other within an interprofessional healthcare team. So, it was not a good thing that she was able to experience both but first and foremost she is a wonderful nurse. We’re so proud of her.”

Kensky was among the 571 graduates at the MGH Institute’s 44th Commencement ceremony, held today at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center

While most DNP grads take less than four years to complete the part-time program, it took Kensky double that time due to a number of factors which included recovery complications, delays due to the pandemic, continuing to work as a nurse, and the death of her father. But throughout it all, she persisted.

“It took a lot of courage to experience what she went through and rise above it,” said Margie Sipe, who runs the DNP program and was Kensky’s advisor. Sipe devised a schedule that allowed Kensky to complete the program on a longer timeline. “We had a lot of tears together but Jess getting her degree is just the beginning of her next stage.”

Kensky was just as complimentary about her mentors. “There were many times that it became really challenging, when it was hard to focus,” she said. “But people like Jeanette and Margie were determined to make this happen, even if it looked a little differently than what we had originally intended.”

While she was being interviewed by CBS Boston after the morning’s School of Nursing ceremony, she picked up a copy of “Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship” which chronicled the first few years of her recovery and that of Patrick. “This isn’t exactly the kind of publication schools want you to produce,” she said with a laugh. “But Rescue started attending classes with me online and then when I went in person he went in person.”

Kensky, who recently received a promotion on her unit, was pleased to have completed the program.

“It’s amazing to have finished at the IHP,” said Kensky, who was featured in the 2018 summer edition of the MGH Institute Magazine. “It’s nice to feel like I’m getting back to things that were a part of me and the trajectory I was on before I got hurt.”

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