Sunday, December 21, 2014

Boston Marathon amputee victims face physical, mental challenges

Story Highlights
  • Boston Marathon bombing victims who lost their limbs will soon be heading to rehabilitation facilities.
  • More than a dozen people had limbs amputated from the April 15 attack.
  • Physicians say recovering from an amputation is a long, arduous process, both physically and mentally.

Boston Marathon bombing victims who lost their limbs will soon be heading from hospitals to rehabilitation facilities, but their path to recovery is just beginning.

More than a dozen people -- including a 27-year-old man with extensive family ties to Philadelphia and South Jersey -- had limbs amputated from the April 15 attack. Doctors report that the victims are making good progress. But, physicians in Boston and Philadelphia say, recovering from an amputation is a long, arduous process, both physically and mentally.

“They now have to deal with the loss of a limb, and mourning the loss of a limb,” said Dr. John Chovanes, a trauma surgeon at Cooper University Hospital and a major in the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps.

The marathon amputee victims have largely completed their surgeries and are moving on to rehabilitation and therapy. Medical advances mean the odds are good that they can eventually return to active lives. But getting there will require watching out for infections, strengthening muscles and learning new routines.

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  • “Nearly all of the patients that have lost legs are already walking the halls with physical therapists,” Dr. Jeffrey Kalish, director of endovascular surgery at the Boston Medical Center, said at a news conference this week. “It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of safety, a lot of practice.”

    Kalish said he is expecting a “mass exodus” from the hospital soon, as patients enter rehabilitation centers.

    Patients who begin physical therapy early, “right in the bed,” have better recoveries, Chovanes said.

    As soon as a patient can move around, “we’re doing as much strengthening as possible of the remaining muscles in the affected limb,” Magee Riverfront therapy manager Carol Owens told Philly.com’s Sports Doc blog last week.

    Chovanes said other factors that influence patients’ recovery processes include their pre-trauma health, the quality of their eventual prosthetic, the rehabilation facilities available, the experience of their physicians and their own attitudes.

    “They have to have a reason that they want to say, ‘I’m going to try to move forward with my limbs. How am I going to maximize this situation?’” he said.

    Chovanes said he expects most of the Boston victims to receive stellar physical care. But society is largely “still figuring out how to deal with the mental and emotional scars” of trauma.

    He said speaking with others who have lost limbs may be helpful to the Boston victims, and it’s essential for both those wounded and their families to have good support networks.

    “Recovery from this, psychologically, is a marathon,” Terence Keane, a Boston University School of Medicine psychiatrist, said at a news briefing.


    Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or ebabay@philly.com. Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

    Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.

    Emily Babay Philly.com staff
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