In April 2013, Heather Abbott faced the difficult choice of whether to allow her doctors to amputate her left leg. Days earlier, she had been near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs exploded, sending Abbott flying into a nearby restaurant and badly injuring her body.
She underwent three surgeries in four days, but her doctors still believed her best chance at survival would be to amputate her leg. Until then, Abbott never imagined what it would be like to be an amputee, she said. She had many questions and few answers. Doubts and worries.
Then, other amputees began arriving.
"Being able to see somebody and talk to somebody that's been through something very difficult and for them to be able to show you that life goes on is priceless, really," Abbott said.
After the April 15 marathon bombing, a terrorist attack that killed three people and injured hundreds more, amputees from across the country descended on Boston to support people like Abbott, who were about to begin a difficult journey of recovery.
Abbott shared her story Tuesday afternoon at the annual Possibilities Luncheon fundraiser for Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation. The support she received from other amputees, doctors and rehabilitation specialists gave her the strength to rebuild her life. A variety of prostheses helped Abbott return to the activities she loves, such as paddleboarding.
"I didn't want to not be able to do those things," Abbott said. "[But] I needed a special prosthesis."
Now Abbott is paying it forward with the Heather Abbott Foundation, which finances specialized prosthetics that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and have to regularly be replaced, she said. Often insurance companies cover only the most basic type of prosthetics, not the ones that allow people to run, for example, she said.
The hundreds of people in attendance at the luncheon also heard from Steven Hawkins, a local man who overcame a serious spinal cord injury caused by a motorcycle accident. Like Abbott, Hawkins credited his recovery — in his case, walking again — to being able to see another person in a similar situation.
Matt Gibson, CEO of Siskin, said the event is about giving people the chance to have hope, no matter how dark their situation may be.
"It is all about access," Gibson said. "Access to the transformative care that takes place at Siskin Hospital for folks whose lives in most instances have been turned upside down unexpectedly."
This year marks Siskin's 30th anniversary operating in Chattanooga.
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