It was, she said, “the darkest time of our lives,” and yet it would result in memories so precious that she and her daughter would return to Boston again and again.
On their last visit they brought two of their New York friends with them.
“I have such a spot in my heart for this place,” Lisa Brunet explained. “We were scared, cold people from New York, having to stay here for three months while my daughter received her daily radiation treatments. Boston just took us in, and I wanted our friends to see why I regard this as our second home.”
The story began when her daughter, Kayleigh, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 9. She would undergo two extensive surgeries at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, but when the tumor appeared a third time Mom was told no more could be done.
Kayleigh was only 11.
“I was told, ‘If we operate again, there’s a good chance she won’t make it, or if she does, she won’t be the same person you know right now.’ So we began searching for alternatives.”
Their search led to Massachusetts General Hospital, where a radiation oncologist named Dr. Nancy Tarbell determined Kayleigh was a viable candidate for one more trip to an operating room.
Kayleigh’s now 22 and cancer free.
“We spent those months at the Constitution Inn in Charlestown,” Lisa recalled. “And we met a man who lived on a boat. When he heard why we were there, he got us tickets to everything in town. When Kayleigh’s brothers came to be with us on Christmas they ended up with front-row seats at a Celtics game. Boston just wrapped us in its arms.”
In years to come they would take periodic “fun trips” from their Hudson River Valley home to this place where life began anew for them a long time ago.
That’s what brought them back this last time, when they stayed at the Fairmont Battery Wharf with its wraparound balcony overlooking the harbor. And that’s what they were doing when Kayleigh’s wristlet purse slipped off and fell into the water.
She began crying: “Mom, my cellphone is in there! So are my ID, credit cards, medication and $400 in cash.”
They noticed the Boston Fire Department had a marine division next door, so moments later they were knocking on its doors.
“When one of them asked what brought us to Boston,” Lisa remembers, “I told him Kayleigh’s story. I guess he must have said something to the others because they asked for our contact information, saying they had a dive team that conducts drills every other week.”
That was the end of the story, until Lisa’s cellphone began ringing the next morning.
Firefighter Steve Murphy told her how diver Bob Doyle came in on his day off; with Murphy serving as dive master, Doyle went down.
“You’re not going to believe what happened,” an excited Murphy told Lisa. “We found it!”
The jakes wouldn’t hear of reward money, so the New Yorkers went into the North End and returned to the station laden with pastries.
“How do you say thanks?” Lisa marveled. “Our friends were stunned, but we told them: ‘This is what we’ve been talking about, and it’s one more reason why we love Boston.’ ”