Boston Aftermath: Recovery after amputation

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Medical workers aid an injured man at the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two bombs exploded near the finish of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing at least two people, injuring at least 22 others and sending authorities rushing to aid wounded spectators. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L. Ryan)

Many of the people who were fortunate enough to survive yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon face a long road to recovery—both physically and emotionally. At the top of that list are those spectators or competitors who suffered traumatic amputations of limbs after the devastating blasts.

Information on the injured is spotty right now. But Sports Doc talked to Carol Owens, PT, GCS, Therapy Manager at Magee Riverfront on the road to recovery that those affected will face.

In her 23 years in PT, Owens has treated many patients with amputations. While most of those patients lost limbs due to disease (non-traumatic amputations), she’s also seen those who’ve been injured in car or motorcycle crashes and have unexpectedly lost limbs as a result.

“I think the biggest challenge for a traumatic amputee is that you don’t always have very healthy tissue,” Owens says. “You’re often working with grafted tissue from other sites. In addition, you may have injuries to other parts of the body to contend with as well.”

Once healing takes place the next step is to get the injured patient up onto a prosthesis—a step that Owens says should be accelerated and performed as soon as possible. Again, this is particularly challenging with traumatic amputations due to the compromised skin around the affected area. “Once the patient is up and moving, we’re doing as much strengthening as possible of the remaining muscles in the affected limb,” she continued.

Of course, beyond and perhaps greater than the physical ramifications of rehab are the emotional implications of limb loss. It’s unknown whether any of the most seriously injured were race participants, but the mere idea of losing a limb would be devastating to anyone let alone a marathon runner.

“These patients run the gamut of emotions,” confirms Owens. “A person who’s in the shape to run a marathon likely has a great competitive spirit. So imagine going from an elite runner to ‘I’m in a hospital bed, and I’m missing a limb.’ It’s quite a journey.”

Owens says that the first mental hurdle is getting the patient to accept that the missing or amputated limb becomes a part of who they are. “Sometimes, they don’t even want to look at that leg,” she admits. “They don’t want to touch it, or put a prosthetic on it at all. It becomes a period of mourning for the limb and for the life they had.”

At Magee, the AmpPeers program pairs amputees with similar personality traits or lifestyles to help them navigate what is potentially the greatest challenge of their lives. But an effective therapist can make all the difference.

“It’s our job to help them through that as best they can,” concludes Carol Owens. Perhaps the best news is that a marathon runner has a huge advantage in bouncing back because of the physical condition they’ve maintained to that point.”

To learn more about the AmpPeers program, visit www.mageerehab.org/amputee-support.php


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