Boston victim opts for amputation, sees better life with prosthetic

Heather Abbott of Newport, R.I., is wheeled into a news conference at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Abbott underwent a below-the-knee amputation following injuries she sustained at the Boston Marathon bombings.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Every year on Patriots Day, Heather Abbott and her friends take the train from Providence, R.I., to Boston and watch the Red Sox game before meeting other friends for drinks. The 38-year-old and two girlfriends had just arrived at a bar on Boylston Street and were waiting in line when Abbott heard an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The force of the blast pushed the group inside the bar.

“I remember turning around and looking and seeing people screaming,” Abbott said Thursday at a press conference at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “I was on the ground, everyone was running to the back of the bar to the exit. I felt like my foot as on fire and I knew I couldn’t stand up.”

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The Newport, R.I., resident started screaming for help when four strangers dragged and carried her out of the Forum bar and into an ambulance.

“They wouldn’t leave my side until they knew I was safe,” Abbott said. “It was very scary, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, if it was just my foot that was injured.”


The last thing she recalls is asking the EMT to call her mother and hearing him tell her to go to the hospital.

After multiple surgeries, Abbott was faced with a choice – trying to save her badly mangled foot or amputating her leg below the knee. She opted for the latter, saying that her foot was unlikely to ever be functional and her leg would be shorter than the other.

“I wouldn’t be able to live the lifestyle I did prior to the injury,” she said. “Although the prosthetic is going to be something to get used to, I think it’s a better chance of living my life the way I used to.”

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She said that when one of the physicians asked her what she liked to do in her free time, she replied that she enjoys running, Zumba classes and aerobics. Abbott, who works in human resources for Raytheon Co. in Portsmouth, R.I., said she was looking forward to trying yoga paddleboarding this summer.

“I was kind of disappointed I wouldn’t be able to do that this year,” Abbott said. The physician replied, “You’ll be doing it next year, don’t worry.”

Abbott said she has given little thought to Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspects that allegedly set off the twin bombs near the marathon finish line.

“I don’t even know how to pronounce their names,” she said. “I haven’t watched TV since the incident, I think that’s one of the things helping me get through this, just focus on my recovery and how to proceed with life.”

Abbott said her positive outlook is driven by her friends and family.

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“It’s a life-altering experience and if I didn’t have the support system and family and friends that I do, I think I would be devastated,” she said. “It’s so hard for me to focus on anything negative because they are always around.

“I can’t sit there and say what if I arrived five minutes later or five minutes earlier or what if I decided not to go to the game this year,” she added. “This is the situation I’m faced with, it’s not going to change. For me to dwell on the negative is kind of a waste of time for me.”


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Twitter: @LATSeema