“Since the majority who sustain a concussion spontaneously improve and return to baseline-level function, some believe that concussion is benign, and if symptoms persist, it reflects a psychiatric manifestation,” he said. Bigler said cognitive and emotional problems can persist after concussions.
Douglas Sheff, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and a personal-injury lawyer who volunteered to help bombing victims, said the “One Fund is doing the same thing that, frankly, insurance companies and, frankly, doctors are still doing to this day” — not treating brain injuries seriously because they sometimes have no obvious physical symptoms.
‘Not what I was prepared for’
Leigh, who was at the marathon to watch a friend run, was perhaps 10 feet from the second bomb when it detonated, trapped in a thick crowd that may have shielded her from the shrapnel that tore into so many around her. She had been making her way toward the first explosion hoping to help. She knows CPR and has had disaster response training.
She said she awoke against a barricade. Debris was fluttering in the air and blood and flesh were everywhere, she said.
“It’s just heat and it’s little pin dots,” she said. “I don’t feel my feet and I don’t feel myself going through the air. And I wake up and I’m up against the railing, sitting against the railing, and people were trampling my feet.”
An older man, covered in blood, his arm flayed open, staggered toward her. She helped him around a corner, where she thought he’d be safer. Two men brought over another victim.
“His foot and ankle were all bloody. The top half of his foot came off in my hand. It was in his sneaker. . . . I vaccinate babies in East Africa. This was not what I was prepared for,” Leigh said. She helped the two injured men into ambulances.
Leigh said she tried to find her way home in Boston’s Jamaica Plain section, more than three miles away. Trains were shut down and cabs were not allowed near the bombing site, so eventually, she said, she walked. She remembers very little of the trip.
With a doctor’s appointment scheduled for two days later, Leigh decided not to go to a hospital. She spent the first night agitated and the next day dizzy and vomiting when she wasn’t asleep, typical signs of a concussion. But a bomb scare canceled her appointment and the lockdown and manhunt for the suspects on April 19 canceled another. She wasn’t examined until April 24, nine days after the bombing.
Since then, she has seen a neurologist, an eye doctor, a hearing specialist, a psychotherapist and a dermatologist for damage to her skin. She has had increasingly sophisticated tests on her brain. She takes a variety of medications to treat headaches and prevent seizures.
“The majority of this patient’s severe cognitive, somatic, mood and sleep symptoms that have completely disrupted her life are due to her post-concussion syndrome,” Robert Cantu, Leigh’s doctor and a national expert on the subject, wrote after he evaluated her. “As a result of these symptoms Dr. Leigh is currently and for the foreseeable future disabled from the kind of complex consulting work she has done before the bomb blast injury was sustained.” Leigh also has post-traumatic stress disorder, Cantu wrote.
Leigh’s health insurance has paid about $40,000 of her $70,000 in bills, the One Fund gave her $8,000 and a state victims’ fund has contributed $5,000. She is down to $1,200, living on credit cards and money from selling her possessions, she said. She is filing for monthly Social Security disability payments of $473 and $30.40 in food stamps — far less than the $2,300 she owes just for rent and student loans each month, she said.
“My brain isn’t prepared to handle a lot of tasks anymore,” Leigh said.“If I try to do a lot of things, it has, like, meltdowns.
“I have no money. I have nobody to help me do things. I’m always worried about bills.”
Leigh has been rebuffed twice by the One Fund, the first time when she met with Feinberg before the money was distributed and later by another official after the payments were made. Stern, her attorney, is among those who have asked Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to intervene, and he has stepped up his efforts to get her more money.
“Donors to the One Fund, to my knowledge, never intended to have their contributions limited in such a way as to leave victims like my client so severely undercompensated,” he wrote to the charity July 17.
Leigh said she will soon give up her health insurance and go on the state program for the poor, which may sharply reduce available treatment.
“I don’t ever regret running to help people,” she said, adding, “I’m really saddened that my society hasn’t rallied to help me.”