NEWPORT — Within four months of getting a prosthetic leg, Heather Abbott went paddle boarding. Soon after, she got a special leg so she could walk in 4-inch heels, her preferred footwear. She’s also got a special running blade, as well as an “everyday” leg.
Abbott wants to be able do all the things she did before the Boston Marathon bombing a year ago. That’s why she made the difficult decision to have her left leg amputated. Four surgeons had told her there was a good possibility she would never walk again.
“I feel as though I really didn’t have a decision,” she said in a recent interview at her apartment in Newport. “That’s not how I wanted to live the rest of my life.”
Abbott, 39, said she’s not a patient person and wanted to get back to her life before the bombings. She surprised herself by being able to walk into her surgeon’s office on her new prosthetic just weeks after receiving it.
“I’m much stronger and more resilient than I ever could have imagined,” she said.
Still, it has not been an easy recovery. The discomfort in her leg persists. She may need more surgeries to address an area of nerves that has bothered her since the amputation. She senses she still walks with a limp, and she doesn’t like it.
“Sometimes, it’s just hard. Everything is more difficult now. I have to think about things I never had to before,” she said.
Abbott is now back at Raytheon, where she works in human resources, but her physical difficulties mean she works only part time for now. She continues physical therapy a few times a week.
She still vividly remembers April 15, 2013.
Three people were killed in the bombing and more than 260 were injured. Abbott was waiting in line with friends to go into the Forum restaurant for a fundraiser when the bombs exploded, tearing the heel off her foot.
During the first few months, she focused on her own injury and recovery, she said. Then, she got to know some other survivors, some hurt worse than she, and the enormity of what happened started to sink in.
“Then I met some of the families of people who died in the bombing,” she said. “They weren’t just names I read in newspapers — they were people’s sons and daughters and siblings — hit me this past fall.”
She also avoided learning about the investigation. She did not want to know the details, until recently.
“What the rest of the world knew back in April last year, I kind of just learned myself,” she said. “I don’t think I could have handled everything all at once. As the anniversary approaches, it’s hard. It’s hard to have that kind of all come back.”
Abbott said she can’t understand why anyone would set off bombs at the marathon, and she someday wants to go see bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev when he appears in federal court in Boston, where he has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Asked for her thoughts on Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, who died in a police shootout days after the bombing, she replies: “I think I’m still trying to get my head around the whole thing.”
Abbott said her experience has made her more of a compassionate person. She also has formed close friendships with several of the other survivors.
“Sixteen of us lost limbs at the bombing. I’ve met all other 15. They’re all the bravest, most courageous and, I think, strong people I know,” she said. “Some of them I’ve become very close with, and we’ve really become kind of a support system for each other. Because we’re all going through this at the same time.”
They sometimes talk about the bombing or their injuries, she said, but they also talk about their families or swap fashion tips, such as how to get a prosthetic leg into a boot (make sure the boot has a zipper and use nylons or a plastic bag to help the leg slide in).
She knows exactly where she will be during the April 21 marathon this year.
“The day of the marathon, I’d like to be with my friends at Forum,” she said, “like I probably should have been last year.”