Heather Abbott has come full circle, from patient to philanthropist.
I first met her at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, just a few weeks after her left foot was nearly blown off in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. She was still somewhat traumatized, as were most patients there, but she was gracious with her time and brutally honest.
After three surgeries to save her foot, she had agreed to have her leg amputated below the knee because doctors said a prosthesis would provide a better quality of life. Her mangled foot might never heal, they told her.
"It was a hard thing to say yes to, but I haven’t regretted it,” she explained at the time. "And I haven’t had any doctor tell me I made the wrong decision."
This week, the foundation that Abbott created after the bombing made its first donation, a prosthetic leg for a 26-year-old Massachusetts woman. Hillary Cohen had lost her right leg below the knee two years ago because of a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis. The disease causes tumors to grow on nerve endings.
The $70,000 prosthesis will allow Cohen to wear high heels for the first time in her life. That was something that Abbott insisted she would again do after she recovered from the bombing injury. And six months later, with a special prosthesis, she did.
For Cohen, an artist matched the skin color of her custom-made prosthesis to her other leg. Freckles, veins and toenails were painted on and the leg shaded to show muscles.
"I changed into my high heels when I got to work [Tuesday]," said Cohen, a bone density technologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. "That was really nice to be able to wear it, to admire it."
Insurance companies typically don't pay for cosmetic touches or prosthetics they don't consider medically necessary. Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics in Newton, Mass. discounted the price of the limb so that Abbott's foundation could afford to donate it to Cohen.
Cohen already has an artificial limb that allows her to walk and work out. But her goal of wearing heels wasn't attainable until Monday.
The Heather Abbott Foundation raises money through Abbott's speaking engagements, a web site, and other activities. Its next prosthesis donation is a running leg for an 8-year-old girl who lost her limb in a lawn mower accident when she was a toddler.
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