Step by step, marathon amputee reinvents her life

By Bridget Murphy

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 15 2013 7:47 a.m. MDT

Sometimes she forgot her leg was gone and tried to get up. She also suffered constant phantom pains, sensations experts say start in the nervous system and cause discomfort that feels like it's coming from a missing limb. Sometimes she felt itchy on toes she didn't have anymore.

Daniel craved mobility and she wanted her family back together, and neither could come soon enough.

In late May, prosthetists made a plaster mold of her left leg above where her knee had been to help fashion her first artificial limb. A team from United Prosthetics worked on the casting at Spaulding on a day when some other marathon bombing amputees had the same procedure.

"I'm hoping you'll be back for prosthetic training in three to four weeks," said Spaulding physiatrist David Crandell, who'd treated 15 marathon amputees.

"Two to three weeks," Daniel told the doctor.

She was in a hurry, but the changes she wanted would not come fast or easily.

"Talk to me and breathe. I need you to breathe, OK?"

"I'm breathing."

"OK, good."

Prosthetist Paul Martino was trying to keep Daniel comfortable. It was early June and the time had come for her to stand on her own again.

Inside United Prosthetics in the city's Dorchester section, Martino helped her slide into the kind of socket that would encase the top of her left leg and connect to a replacement knee and foot to form her first artificial limb.

The fit was awkward at first and Daniel cringed with pain. She hadn't put any weight on her injured limb until then.

"Could I walk funny? I feel funny," she said.

Prosthetist Julianne Mason helped tweak the fit so Daniel could try some practice steps in a narrow hallway with support bars on both walls. When Martino closed a door, Daniel saw her new reflection in a mirror.

"That's you, standing up," he said.

"Hmmm," she said softly. "The bionic woman."

The prosthetists had her try two different knees, and Martino guided Daniel as she learned to shift her weight back and forth and begin to walk.

"Oh, I took a tiny step," Daniel said as she started down the hallway.

Still, even the most advanced technology was clumsy compared with the leg Daniel lost.

"I had one that worked perfectly," she'd told Martino.

"Yeah," he said. "You did."

But Daniel was getting messages of support from near and far. She'd met war veterans who'd had amputations and pro athletes who honored her before their games. President Barack Obama had come to her bedside at Massachusetts General, telling her not to lose hope.

The day after Daniel's first steps, children who rode the Weymouth school bus her father drove took part in a walkathon on her behalf that raised $8,275.

Daniel's custom-made prosthetic leg wasn't ready yet and she hadn't brought her crutches to the event. But she borrowed a pair and rose from her wheelchair that morning to lead hundreds of students for the first quarter-mile of their walk.

"Mery strong!" they shouted, pumping their small fists in the air.

As summer started, Daniel moved into an apartment in the city's South End. The first-floor unit was just steps from Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where the president rallied Bostonians three days after the marathon bombings and spoke about the recovery that survivors like Daniel would face.

"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."

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