Couple with Toledo ties still recovering in Brazil

Sarah Lowry, 29, and David McLaughlin, 31, who married in October, are recovering from burns suffered in a freak explosion while they were in Brazil. Both are Ohio State University doctoral students.
Sarah Lowry, 29, and David McLaughlin, 31, who married in October, are recovering from burns suffered in a freak explosion while they were in Brazil. Both are Ohio State University doctoral students.

Nearly two months ago, on June 29, Sarah Lowry and her new husband, David McLaughlin, were taking a walk close to the famed Copacabana Beach in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro.

Then, suddenly, the couple - students from Ohio State University who were in Brazil working on their doctorates - were on the ground with burns over much of their bodies, victims of a mysterious explosion from a nearby manhole.

It was a split-second twist of fate that Mr. McLaughlin's mother, Irene, struggles to comprehend as she waits for her son and daughter-in-law to recover enough to return to the United States.

Ms. Lowry, a graduate of Start High School in Toledo who was working on a doctorate in Slavic studies, remains in a Brazilian hospital with burns over 80 percent of her body.

Mr. McLaughlin, who was in Brazil on a Fulbright-Hays grant, is out of the hospital but must wear special gloves to protect the burned skin on his arms and cannot go out in the sun, Mrs.

McLaughlin said. He was burned on 35 percent of his body.

"They're deeply in love, both working on their career goals. Dave was finishing his dissertation and they were going to go to Russia together•.•.•.they had a nice life," Mrs. McLaughlin said in an interview from her home in North Olmsted, Ohio.

Now it's "uncertain how or when they're going to finish their dissertations, and how this is going to affect them psychologically," she said.

Authorities in Brazil are still investigating what caused the manhole explosion. Electric and gas lines both pass underground in the city, and police have said a short circuit may have caused the blast.

A source at the U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro said there have been a number of similar explosions in the past year, although to their knowledge, no one else has been hurt.

In the meantime, Ms. Lowry, 29, and Mr. McLaughlin, 31, continue on the long and painful road to recovery that burn victims endure.

Ms. Lowry has undergone three skin grafts and is undergoing physical therapy to help her regain the confidence to move her body, something she had been unable to do because of the pain, her mother, Sharon Lowry, said.

Doctors have said Ms. Lowry should be able to return to the United States either at the end of this month or in September, although she still will require some treatment and therapy, her mother said.

Mr. McLaughlin spends much of his time at the hospital with his wife and remains weak and tired, Mrs. McLaughlin said.

Their faces were spared serious burns, their parents said.

For family members, efforts to help the couple recover have been complicated by distance, language, and an unfamiliar culture.

The parents - Sharon and Jeffery Lowry and Irene and Jim McLaughlin - were issued emergency visas and passports to travel to Brazil after the incident. All except Mrs. Lowry have returned to the United States for work reasons.

Mrs. Lowry, who has taken leave from her nursing job at St. Luke's Hospital, said she and her daughter, who don't speak Portuguese, find it hard to communicate with medical staff.

"It's been very trying and very difficult," she said. "It's learning the culture, learning how their hospital system works, which is way different. It's been a real learning experience."

Back in North Olmsted, Mrs. McLaughlin has begun making fabric hearts to sell online and in area quilt stores in an effort to raise funds for the couple.

She said the couple's insurance has covered medical costs, but because they are students, their resources are limited. She aims to raise $5,000 to help the newlyweds - who married in October - restart their lives once they return to the United States, she said.

"I have a lot of anger, and I feel so helpless because I can't physically be there taking care of Sarah," Mrs. McLaughlin said. "I'm trying to make something positive out of this and the way I'm doing it is by selling these hearts."

The hearts, which are being made with the help of volunteers, are being sold at for $5.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

or 419-724-6272.