NEW YORK CITY — James Boyle's son, Michael, was a New York City firefighter who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
The memory of his son weighed on his heart so heavily in the years since the terror attack that Boyle, 75, a former firefighter union president, never thought there would be a day when another event would budge it.
But that day came this summer when Boyle received a call that his granddaughter, Amanda, was seriously hurt when she fell and hit her head in a playground. The 17-year-old child of one of Boyle's daughters had trauma to her skull and brain. Three days later, she suffered a seizure and her heart stopped beating while she was in the hospital.
She was literally dead for nearly four minutes before doctors were able to jolt her back to life, albeit in a coma.
Boyle's heart sank. For him, it was worse than 9/11.
"It was like taking a bullet," Boyle recalled. "She was dead. Her heart had stopped. It was the worst feeling. So quick and so unexpected. There was pandemonium. And seeing my daughter in pain."
Boyle has a photo of his son by his nightstand and says a prayer for him every night before he goes to sleep.
“He’s the last thing I see at night and first in the morning,” Boyle said.
But when Amanda fell into a coma, he found himself praying not for his son, but to his son for help.
“Oh God, was I praying for him to help find a miracle for Amanda,” he told “On the Inside.”
Michael Boyle worked at Engine Company 33 on Great Jones Street. He had the day off on Sept. 11, 2001, but raced in to help after the planes hit.
He made the ultimate sacrifice at 10:28 a.m., Boyle said — the time when the North Tower collapsed.
Following 9/11, Boyle, a lifelong New Yorker, and his wife, Barbara, eventually packed up and moved to Rochester to be closer to their two daughters, Jeanne and Mary, and their five grandchildren, including Amanda, the eldest.
After a gut-wrenching week of prayers, Amanda, 17, suddenly opened her eyes.
“It was an absolute miracle,” said her mother, Mary Lynch.
But she was not out of the woods.
There was a fear of brain damage when she could not remember family names, dates and important events, but she recovered over the next week or two.
Finally, doctors told Boyle it was OK for him to bring Amanda food, preferably bagels with salt for the calcium. Like clockwork, he brought them every morning.
“I'd work out at the local Y and then I’d call her and tell her I’d be coming by with the bagels,” Boyle recalled. “Then one morning, after a week or so, Amanda looked down at her cell phone and says, 'You know Grandpa, you keep calling me every morning at 10:28.'"
“I never realized it,” Boyle said of the incredible coincidence. “I swear Michael must have been with us, all along.”
Boyle and his wife say they will attend the 9/11 ceremony as usual to hear their son’s name read aloud and attend Mass at Engine Company 33.
Amanda, meanwhile, is back in high school, but remains too weak to make the trek this year. She will instead spend the day memorializing Michael at a 9/11 ceremony in Rochester, where Jeanne will speak on behalf of the Boyle clan.
“The doctors never thought Amanda would make it,” her mother, Mary, said. “But Michael was our hero. I have no doubt my brother was her angel and pulled her through this.”