HOUSTON -- Jacki Dowling wears a small necklace, a heart-shaped lock with a small key. It’s the necklace her husband Capt. Bill Dowling gave her on Mother’s Day.
As he gave her the necklace he told her she held the key to his heart. Now, three months after the devastating fire at a hotel on the Southwest Freeway, Mrs. Dowling waits to see how much of her heart she will finally be able to bring home.
"I know he knows me. I can see it in his eyes,” Dowling said.
Her husband was still hospitalized and later this week could finally be transferred to the rehabilitation program at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Dowling was trapped in the fire with his legs pinned by burning debris.
He was awake and alert when he was rescued and shouted to his fellow firefighters to let his wife know he would be okay.
But after the medical amputation of both of his legs and as he began to awake from several weeks of sedation, it became apparent that brain damage would be among his injuries too.
"When we found out that he had suffered hypoxia, it was a major setback,” Dowling said. "There's not really a conversation yet. He can't really talk. There's some eye contact and he will give kisses. So I'll take those any day.”
"They really won't give us a level of mild, moderate, severe probably because the brain is so hard to understand. So it's just kind of a wait-and-see. It's just a really long wait-and-see kind of thing," Dowling said.
During her wait, which will become 12 weeks on Friday, Dowling has been overwhelmed by the support of her firefighting family, complete strangers, and the donations to the 100 Club that have allowed her and her children to move to an apartment near the Texas Medical Center and attend a new school nearby so they can be closer to Capt. Dowling’s hospital bed.
"The prayers that have come in, the kind words, the support, that's what has made me get through this, is just that, everybody. It’s incredible. I wish I could give them all a big hug and have a big party for them. They've been amazing and they didn't have to be. There's been so many I can't even name them all. I don't want to leave anybody out so I just want to say thank you to everybody."
Meanwhile the Dowlings and their extended family say they rely on their faith, praying for Bill Dowling’s recovery, and believing that some day he will have a remarkable and miraculous survivor’s story to tell.
"Oh yes. Why would we go through this otherwise,” Dowling said. “God put us here for a reason. I can't imagine that it was for him to not do anything with this. We're going to travel around and tell everybody. We're going to shout it out to the world."
With the help of donations from the 100 Club, Houston Firefighters, and a variety of other fundraisers arranged by other organizations, Dowling is able to focus on her husband’s recovery, getting her children back into a school routine this week, and putting on a brave face that she admits isn’t always easy to find.
"You know I want to be strong for him,” Dowling said. “He promised that he would fight for us and now it's my turn to fight for him. I want all of him back. We're going to get all of him back. We prayed for all of him back so we're going to get him back."
That’s why she still wears that heart-shaped necklace: waiting for the day she can bring all of her heart home.