October 14, 2013

Step by step, Boston Marathon amputee recovers

Six months after the bombings, Mery Daniel is on her feet and adapting to her new life.

By Bridget Murphy
Associated Press

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

In this Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 photo, Mery Daniel smiles in the cafeteria at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Daniel has made strides in regaining mobility and independence since losing most of her left leg in the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

“We will all be with you as you learn to stand, and walk, and yes, run again ...,” Obama had said. “Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act.”

As she exercised to build strength, Daniel tried to put distance between her journey and any thoughts about the bombing suspects, immigrants like herself. For her, the American way of life was about freedom. The evil she’d seen on Boylston Street was nothing she could understand. She’d leave it to the justice system to deal with innocence or guilt and to mete out punishment.

Sometimes, when Daniel and her husband went out, strangers recognized her from news reports and thanked her for serving as an inspiration. As she grew used to the new shape of her body, Richardson saw another change, too.

“She’s more humble and accepts life the way it is and tries to move on,” he said. “I like that.”

Richardson had worked as a dermatologist in Haiti, and had a job helping autistic children in the Boston area. With his wife coping with physical challenges, more household and parenting duties fell to him. She still couldn’t maneuver well enough to give their 5-year-old a bath, and Richardson’s parents pitched in to help raise their grandchild.

Daniel’s focus was two-fold: growing comfortable with her new, custom-made prosthetic and finding a job in the medical field that could help her land a residency after she passed her medical boards.

She went to Spaulding for two weeks of inpatient training on the man-made limb. It had a computerized knee, and Daniel’s stride was robotic as she learned how to rebalance her body. The bulk also added 10 pounds to her frame.

But the device was what prosthetist Paul Martino had called a starter model, and Daniel tried to keep her expectations low. What mattered was she was walking again.

By the time autumn arrived, Daniel was leaving her crutches behind when she left her apartment.

She was venturing into Boston by herself in taxis and even considering riding mass transit again as the six-month anniversary of the bombings grew near. She also had participated in road races, riding a handcycle powered with her arms.

“A lot of the things that I used to do, I can no longer do them,” Daniel said. “I don’t say permanently, but for now. I’m still learning how to do little things, step by step.”

Once in a while, she cracked open her books and did some studying for her medical boards. She’d had a job interview at a city hospital, and was hunting for a house for her family. Three siblings who also had lived in Haiti had come to live with Daniel and her husband, including a 14-year-old sister she’d enrolled in a Boston public high school.

The timing wasn’t perfect, but Daniel took on the responsibility. They needed her, she said.

Others had been there for Daniel. Some of that support came by way of donations – including more than $1 million from The One Fund – to help her cope her injuries.

Daniel still went to physical therapy at Spaulding, working out both alone and with other marathon bombing amputees with whom she’d found fellowship and friendship.

And she returned to United Prosthetics, determined to swap the bulky socket of her prosthetic for a sleeker model that might let her wear skinny jeans again.

The prosthetists made another plaster cast of what remained of her left leg to make a second custom socket. Then they adjusted the microprocessor in her artificial knee to loosen her stride. Daniel even picked out a cosmetic cover for the metallic parts of her prosthetic that was designed to match her complexion.

“That’s very important to me,” she said.

Later, Daniel decided to stop for something to eat before she headed home. Her ride dropped her off near her apartment, and she walked a block to a South End cafe she’d come to like.

Then Daniel snagged a table out on the sidewalk, where she dined by herself as she took in the view, just another Bostonian enjoying a fine September afternoon.

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