By Kristyn Burtt, Lifescript Entertainment Editor | April 13, 2016
Why a Bombing Survivor Is Returning to the Boston Marathon
In 2013, Adrianne Haslet-Davis’ life changed in an instant. Find out how this Boston Marathon bombing survivor has learned to thrive, and why she isn’t letting a prosthetic leg prevent her from running in this year’s event…
On April 15, 2013, a terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon left three people dead, more than 250 injured, and at least 16 with missing limbs. Adrianne Haslet-Davis lost her left leg below the knee.
But instead of despairing over what the bombing took away from her, the former professional ballroom dancer, now 36, became determined to find new meaning in the events of that day.
On April 18, Haslet-Davis will run this year’s Boston Marathon. Her #AdrianneStrong team intends to demonstrate that life after a traumatic episode can be full of inspiration and hope, while it raises funds for the Limbs for Life Foundation, a charity that provides new prosthetic limbs for amputees.
Haslet-Davis received her own prosthetic with aid from the foundation, and a sports-medicine team from Boston University has been helping her train for the marathon.
“It means the world to me,” she says. “Not being a runner before, I really wanted to prove to myself I can do things I didn’t even try [in the past]. I want to [inspire] other people to give it a shot.”
On April 18, Adrianne Haslet-Davis is running the 2016 Boston Marathon to raise money for Limbs for Life.
There are more than 4 million amputees in the United States, and 150,000 people lose limbs each year, according to the Limbs for Life Foundation. High-tech prosthetic devices are expensive, and many lack the financial resources to obtain them – or to get the help they need to deal with emotional and lifestyle issues, the foundation says.
In this exclusive Lifescript interview, Haslet-Davis talks about the day that changed everything, how she has adapted to her new life and her next big goal.
How did you end up at the bombing site in 2013?
I was at the Boston Marathon almost by chance. I wasn’t planning on watching the race – I didn’t know anyone who was running that year.
I went out to lunch to do some shopping, and I was really happy the stores weren’t too crowded because everybody was on Boylston Street watching the marathon. I decided to take a right onto Boylston Street and immediately heard a blast behind me.
High-tech prosthetic devices, like the running blade Haslet-Davis is wearing, are expensive. Limbs for Life helps amputees obtain adequate prosthetic care.
Two bombs were set off about 12 seconds apart. You heard the first blast, but you were injured by the second?
Yes. The [first] blast was behind me, so I covered my eyes and put my fingers in my ears. I knew at that moment that it was a terrorist attack. I don’t really know how I knew that.
I even shouted it out – I was like, “Oh no, oh no. There’s going to be another one!”
I covered my ears and then I was on the ground.
At what point did you realize you were hurt? Were you in pain?
I knew I was injured, but I didn’t feel it. Your brain doesn’t really absorb the pain right away at that capacity.
It wasn’t until the moment that I looked down [when I] saw that my ankle and the entire bottom of my left foot were missing. My right thigh was also wide open [from pieces of metal shrapnel that had been placed in the bomb].
Haslet-Davis is fitted for a prosthetic device after her wounds from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing had healed.
Did people immediately come to your aid?
They did. It’s really amazing. There were people who ran straight toward the blast. My husband at the time had been trained in the military, and he put a tourniquet on my leg that saved my life.
Once you arrived at the hospital, what was the immediate course of treatment?
I got to the Boston Medical Center in record time, nine minutes, because the streets were closed. It was easy to get people there. They had medical tents with wheelchairs [set up for the marathon].
Nurses and doctors surrounded me immediately. That was comforting and soothing. They immediately started giving me pain medication.
The staff took such good care of me. They held my hands and some of them were saying, “You lost your leg.” And some of them said, “I think we might be able to fix it.” I think they were saying that to comfort me because I was screaming.
Haslet-Davis, showing her injured leg here, was treated for her wounds and received aftercare at Boston Medical Center. The medical team performed two surgeries to clean out the shrapnel.
When did you have surgery?
It was right away. I had one surgery the night of the marathon, and another one that Wednesday [two days later]. For the first surgery, they did a quick sew-up and clean-out of any of the shrapnel.
How long was your recovery from surgery?
I started recovery after that Wednesday, when they sewed me up. I was still really swollen, and then it was just the waiting time for those stitches to heal.
I was in good shape from being a dancer, so I was fortunate that I was in the hospital for only a week and a half. The inpatient physical therapy took a week and a half as well. Then I went to outpatient therapy.
Once I could walk, I just decided walking and trying to dance was good enough therapy for me.
Haslet-Davis foxtrots across the 2015 Boston Marathon finish line as part of a commercial campaign for Oberto Beef Jerky called “Heroes of Summer.”
How long did it take to accept that you no longer had your left leg below the knee?
I knew it was gone [when I looked down] on the sidewalk, but you can’t comprehend or absorb that reality in the moment.
I woke up [from surgery] the next morning with my parents across the room from me. I saw them, and I said something to my mom about how my foot felt like it was falling asleep. I asked her to fix it or adjust it.
She looked at me and said, “Adrianne, you don’t have a foot anymore.”
Is phantom limb pain still an issue for you?
Oh, it’s very real. I am so incredibly fortunate that I don’t have phantom pain on a regular basis –I’d say twice a year since it happened.
Occasionally, I do have phantom feelings where I’ll have an itch and I’ll reach down to scratch it and realize my foot isn’t there.
Haslet-Davis has given a series of TEDx Talks about her recovery, learned to dance again and addressed the terrorists who altered her life forever.
Do you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)?
My triggers for PTSD are loud, sudden noises – as the popping of a balloon or the backfire of a car.
It’s from that moment of having heard the first blast and knowing what it sounded like. I can hear it still in my head. Constant noises don’t bother me, but unexpected loud noises do.
How is your psychological well-being?
Overall, my mental health is good. I never want to say great. I’m really lucky that I found a great therapist early on. I believe strongly in being able to go there, let it out and just vent.
[In the past], I always just let things roll off my back – but suddenly, I had this giant anger. And we all knew whom I was angry at, but it was displaced. I realized it right away. [I thought], this is not who I am.
Haslet-Davis has been cross-training for the 2016 Boston Marathon by running, cycling and taking yoga classes to keep limber for the big day.
What’s your next goal after running the marathon?
I would love to be a professional ballroom [dancing] teacher for amputees. I think that would be amazing.
I’m writing a book right now, hopefully to help inspire other amputees and people going through hurdles in their lives. I want to be a little peg in that ladder by helping them get to the next level.
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