Panic, then relief, for Brussels blast victim’s wife
Sara Bellin’s cellphone was switched off when her husband, a former Oakland University basketball player, was severely injured in Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels.
Within seconds of restoring the phone to full function, Bellin knew something was terribly wrong.
“My phone started going off like crazy with text messages from my family and I don’t remember who else,” Bellin told The Detroit News on Friday from an airport in Kalamazoo, where she was starting the trek to her husband’s hospital bedside outside Brussels.
“It was constant. I was thinking, ‘What is going on?’ ”
A friend in Belgium had sent an ominous message. “What she wrote was really weird,” Bellin said. “She said, ‘We’re thinking of you guys; if you need anything just call.’ ”
Adrenaline pumping and confusion running high, Bellin finally got answers from her husband’s former boss, who had left a voice mail explaining that Sébastien Bellin, 37, had been severely injured in a bomb attack.
Bellin was standing at an airport ticket counter Tuesday when two bombs exploded, one only 100 yards away. He was thrown to the floor, bloodied from shrapnel wounds to his legs and hips.
He was on his way to New York City at the time, en route to his family’s home in Battle Creek for the Easter weekend after two weeks away on business, Sara Bellin said. But Tuesday morning, there was no daily message from Sébastien to greet his family and lay out flight plans.
“It was just panic,” Sara Bellin said of her first reaction to the attacks. “I just remember my heart was racing and the adrenaline was going. It was panic: What’s happening, and why haven’t I heard from him?”
Among the hundreds of messages Bellin received was a gut-wrenching photograph of her husband, lying on the airport floor with his legs covered in blood.
“When I first saw the image, I freaked out. I was shaking,” Bellin said. “I woke up my girls. To me, it was almost as if he died.”
But after a few moments, the image, ironically, brought Bellin some peace, she said.
“I was comforted because I saw that he was alive,” she said of the photo, in which he appeared conscious. “He looked dazed and shocked, but I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s alive.’ ”
At first, Sara Bellin said, she was unaware of the severity of her husband’s injuries.
“There was a miscommunication: I was told that he drove himself to the hospital, but that wasn’t even close to the truth,” Bellin said. “I mean, part of his left leg was almost in two. I don’t have all the details, but both of his legs need major surgeries, with the bones and muscles and skin.”
The two finally spoke later Tuesday, Bellin said.
“I felt relief to hear his voice, but I could tell that he wasn’t himself. I just knew it wasn’t him. He started crying and he said, ‘I saw so many horrible things. I saw people in two,’ ” Sara Bellin said. “He was in shock, on medication, and I could tell he was in pain. You could just hear it.
“He was just like, ‘Take care of the girls; I’m good, I’m good.’ And that’s typical Seb.”
That first talk was bittersweet, Bellin said.
“I didn’t feel 100 percent reassured that he was going to be OK at that point because I couldn’t hear it in his voice,” she said. “I felt like his life was still dangling.”
But things are looking up now, she said. Sébastien lost “a ton of blood” but is recovering well after two surgeries and at least one blood transfusion.
“So far, things are going very well,” Bellin said. “He’s a very strong guy. He’s a fighter.”
She planned to fly Friday from Kalamazoo to Chicago, then to Philadelphia before making the trek to Amsterdam.
But being at the airport awaiting her first flight brought up painful images for Bellin, she said via text Friday.
“Watching people check in, just like Sébastien and all those people (in Brussels) did,” she said. “Excited for a holiday, excited to get home, busy with a trip ... I have seen several small children, singing, happily eating chips. To think that this was a similar situation in Brussels, it’s eerie.”
Once she gets to Belgium, she’ll stay for a few weeks, Bellin said. The couple’s two daughters, 7-year-old Cécilia and 3-year-old Vanessa, will stay with family in Battle Creek for now, rather than traveling to see their father.
“I don’t think it’s time,” Bellin said. “I want to be there with him first, for this step.”
As Sébastien’s recovery progresses, the girls will join the family in a move to Belgium, where they lived for around 15 years until last summer.
“He’ll need to do therapy and everything there,” Sara Bellin said. “It’ll be a long road, but he’ll do it. And the girls and I will be there for him.”
Sara and Sébastien met at Oakland University while the former player was a standout center on the school’s Golden Grizzlies basketball team in the early 2000s, his wife said. Sébastien helped the team during its 2000 conference championship run, according to his former coach, Greg Kampe. After college, the couple married in July 2002 and returned to Belgium, where Sébastien played professional basketball there and in Italy for about a dozen years.
Sara Bellin’s trip Friday follows a week of chaos at home, she said.
“I haven’t packed yet and am emotionally and mentally exhausted,” Bellin said Thursday night in an email.
But the chaos has been lightened by an outpouring of support, she said.
“I mean I can’t even believe how many people have contacted me,” Bellin said. “I’ve been hearing from my family and friends that they’ve been contacted as well, and I’ve gotten hundreds of messages and so many people have put him on their prayer chain. I’m just in awe.”
Fittingly, Bellin signed her email Thursday with a heart and a hashtag: #teambellin.