02:48 - Source: CNN
Former basketball player survives Brussels attacks

Story highlights

A photo showing Sebastien Bellin lying on the airport floor circulated widely after the attacks

The former basketball player is surrounded by love as he faces a difficult road to recovery

"Why did I make it?" Bellin asks

Brussels, Belgium CNN —  

Sebastien Bellin isn’t sure how he survived.

“Everything points to where I shouldn’t have made it. Everything, from the amount of blood I lost to the legs,” he said.

Speaking to CNN from the Brussels hospital where he’s recovering, Bellin recounted the harrowing moments after explosions shook the airport in the Belgian capital last week.

Just after hearing the upbeat words of an airline agent telling him to have a nice flight, Bellin says he heard a far more harrowing sound: a bomb exploding nearby.

Bellin is a former U.S. college and Belgian national basketball player. And a photo showing him lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the airport circulated widely online after the attack.

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When the explosion went off, he started to run but found his legs quickly gave way.

“The first thing I remember seeing – a part of my hip was missing,” Bellin said. “It looks like, you know, you punched through something.”

A stranger helped save him, propping his legs up on a suitcase to slow his blood loss before paramedics arrived.

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He screamed in pain as a man pulled him to safety.

“My leg wasn’t following,” Bellin said. “I had to reach down. As he’s pulling my hand, I was holding my leg.”

Outpouring of support

Across the Atlantic hours later, his wife, Sara, turned on her phone and learned the horror from friends’ messages.

She saw her husband hadn’t messaged her in hours.

“And I saw from another friend, she wrote something eerie like, ‘We’re here for you if you need us. … We’re thinking of you.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Why is she writing that? What does that mean?’

People who knew her husband were reaching out.

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’Why did I make it?’

Months in a wheelchair are ahead for this former athlete – a tough recovery even to walk again. Yet love is all around.

Family photos, drawings and get-well wishes from his children cover the walls of his hospital room.

His youngest daughter, Bellin says with a smile, wanted to make sure his “booboos were covered with Band-aids.”

Bellin says he’s been weighing bigger questions.

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“The point was first, survival. And then after survival was, OK, keeping the leg. And then alright, I feel like if you stay alive and, you know, you don’t keep the leg, then at least keep one of them,” he said.

And there’s one question he’s struggling to answer: “Why did I make it?”

In the coordinated bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station, officials say 35 people were killed.

“You don’t feel bad. I feel proud that I was able to overcome it,” he said. “But why did I overcome it and others didn’t?”

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported from Brussels. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta.