BOSTON — Roseann Sdoia still thinks about how all the shrapnel flew. How some people were hit and some weren’t, all just inches away from one another. She would love to understand it, because not a day has gone by since the Boston Marathon bombings when she hasn’t had to cope with the aftermath.
More than two months later, the 45-year-old amputee is learning how to walk on the artificial limb that has replaced part of her right leg after an above-the-knee amputation.
The physical therapy is something that other marathon amputees have either already undergone or will experience. While some bombing survivors have had their artificial limbs for a while, others have yet to get to the stage Sdoia has reached.
“In all honesty, do I wish I had it? Of course, no,” Sdoia said on a recent afternoon after physical therapy. “But I think I like it better with the leg on than without the leg. Looking in the mirror, yeah, it’s difficult. And if anybody says it isn’t, they’re lying.”
On April 15, she saw a flash of light at her feet while watching for a friend to pass her on Boylston Street on the way to the race’s finish line. Then she heard a popping noise and realized it was too late to run away.
Since then, Sdoia has battled against indulging her disability. She didn’t want to have someone pushing her around in a wheelchair or to think too much about the suspects who changed her life and ended three others. As time passed, she found her emotions weren’t as raw as in the beginning. But being up on two legs again has brought some strong feelings bubbling to the surface.
The resident of Boston’s North End spent about a week at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital recently for therapy aimed at getting her accustomed to her new prosthetic. Part of that meant time looking in the mirror, studying her gait and trying to accept a new image that can bring a few tears when she talks about it.
During a recent workout, Sdoia watched her reflection as she paced back and forth on crutches and her prosthetic in a hospital gym. Her physical therapist, Dara Casparian, had her focus on how to kick out her prosthetic for a natural stride forward. Sdoia worked to balance herself by putting weight on the side of her body she hadn’t been leaning on for months.
“Your brain now thinks your center of mass is here on your left side,” Casparian said. “It’s just going to take time and comfort and trusting that leg.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” Sdoia told her.
Sdoia previously spent time at Spaulding for therapy after surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital following the attack. In mid-May, she left Spaulding on crutches and returned home for the first time, vowing to move forward and take one day of her recovery at a time.
But now she has to wake up in the morning and put on her new right leg, while accepting this is something she’ll have to do the rest of her life. She said she is determined not to complain, and laughed while saying she’s nicknamed the artificial limb “this sucker” — not yet sure whether it’s her friend or enemy.
“It definitely is something I need to get around and to live a regular life, and I think it’s too soon to say exactly what I feel,” she said.
Sdoia is an athlete who ran more than a few road races before that day she went to Boylston Street to be a marathon spectator. And the petite, peppy blonde who works in property management plans to go back to recreational running again.
Sabrina Dellorusso, who was with her at the marathon but barely suffered a scratch, called Sdoia the kind of friend who would call early on a weekend morning to make sure you got up to run a 5K with her.
She showed the same kind of grit at Spaulding recently, where she stuck to a three-hour-a-day exercise schedule. Sdoia said her suction-type prosthetic wasn’t painful, but it added an extra 10 pounds to her body, and the fit still felt awkward.
But she seemed to forget that when Dellorusso stopped by for a hospital visit and she reached out to her. The two hugged as Sdoia stood up on her own, with no crutches necessary.
“Physically, she’s a little different. But she’s going to be the same,” Dellorusso said.
Sdoia said her short-term goals are to walk and climb stairs with confidence. In the longer term, she wants to return to her normal routine of running, driving and going to work. While she still has questions about what happened that day, she thinks of herself as the same person who is just starting another chapter of life.
“I don’t think it’s changed me in any fashion. I just continue to be who I am,” Sdoia said. “Some people think it’s inspiring. I think that’s kind of funny.”