‘But I Am Still Alive': Silver Spring Apartment Explosion Survivor Continues Recovery

Seven months after a devastating explosion at a Maryland apartment, one survivor’s recovery continues with help from the community and a local hospital.

On Aug. 10, a massive explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments complex in Silver Spring killed seven people, displaced at least 80 families and injured more than 30 people, including 32-year-old Memar Ayalew.

Ayalew, of Ethiopia, was visiting his aunt and uncle on a break from a Ph.D. program in Italy. He came home about 11:45 p.m. that night.

“I was sitting next to him and I was planning for tomorrow,” Ayalew said. “I heard a gigantic explosion and I don't remember what happened after that.”

He woke up 15 hours later at Washington Adventist Hospital.

“I had a breathing tube, I inhaled so much gas and smoke, and I was like, ‘Oh, I am going to die,’ and I was praying to God,” he said.

Ayalew had a serious injury to his left leg, a deep cut on his back and he hurt everywhere. He struggled to recover in the hospital in the following days.

“At that moment I didn’t know what happened to my uncle and my aunt,” he said. “I was so worried.”

His aunt and uncle were among the seven people who died.

“He was my brother,” Ayalew said of his uncle. “I lost my uncle and I lost my aunt.”

Ayalew also lost his entire body of research for his international relations program. All of his work was destroyed in the explosion.

And although his other injuries healed over time, his left leg had been badly damaged and required constant physical therapy, making it impossible to travel.

“It was my impression that he had a tear of the cartilage or the ligament in the knee, and so initially we treated him with physical therapy, and Adventist Health Care was willing to provide him with care,” said Ayalew’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Christopher Magee.

But physical therapy did not take care of the problem. Ayalew and Magee realized he needed surgery.

Recently, Magee performed an arthroscopy to evaluate and repair damage in the knee. He believes Ayalew’s ACL also needs repair, but he is optimistic he can get his patient back to living a normal life.

Ayalew is grateful for how much the community has helped him and to Washington Adventist Hospital for providing him with care free of charge.

“I never expected this to happen to me and to my relatives,” he said. “I mean, it’s incredible, but I am still alive.”

Ayalew set up a GoFundMe page for assistance continuing his education.

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