On April 15, 2013, countless people were harmed by the malicious acts of two ruthless people who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line. Little did I know that, two weeks later, I’d be writing about my first-hand experiences in meeting with the people who suffered limb loss as a result of those horrific acts. And little did I know that my life would be changed forever by the four days I spent in Boston visiting those people, their families, the healthcare staff tending to them, and the first responders who saved their lives.
I went because I understood what it means to lose a limb. When I was 6 years old, I was riding my bicycle home from my friend’s house on the first day of summer vacation. I never made it home that day. I was hit by a gravel truck and spent the next two months in the hospital. My left leg was crushed below the knee and was amputated, just hours later. I survived, however, because a police officer tied a tourniquet on my leg. I spent the summer in the hospital with countless hours in physical therapy. As a child, I quickly adapted to limb loss, thanks to amazing family, prosthetic care, and prosthetic devices from which my amazing life has ensued.
As a human and as a person with limb loss, I felt an overwhelming need to help the people of Boston who lost their limbs. As I have the honor of serving on the Board for Wiggle Your Toes, a Minnesota non-profit for people with limb loss, I suggested that Wiggle offer our peer support services for the people of Boston. We didn’t know how we would do it, but we did know that we could be there as soon as we were invited to one of the hospitals. And when we got the formal invitation last Tuesday morning, we were on a plane by Wednesday night, and seeing patients on Thursday and Friday at two of the Boston-area hospitals.
The first part of Thursday was spent with the hospital’s in-patient and out-patient physical therapy staff. As all of us have benefited from the gentle persuasion of PT’s, we thanked them for the work they dom the support they offer, and the way that people benefit from their tireless efforts. Amid the hugs, the smiles, the tears, and the laughter of all of us, our message was clearly, well-received. The gratitude was overwhelming.
We spent the rest of the day with some of the survivors and their friends and family. And during one of those meetings, I had the sincere pleasure of meeting one woman, who lost her legs above-the-knee and below-the-knee. When I shook her hand and introduced myself, telling her my story, she said, “You are an amputee?” To which I proudly answered “yes.” She touched my leg and she smiled. Although I was wearing a skirt without tights or nylons covering my leg, she did not notice that I wore a prosthetic leg. That, I believe, gave her hope. She told me that I was the first woman amputee she met.
As one of my peers in the room observed, “Leslie lit up the patient's face when Leslie let her know she was wearing a prosthetic limb. The patient was very excited to see how Leslie was able to use a cosmetic cover and that she had no idea when Leslie walked in, she was a victim of limb loss. The female connection (they talked shoes, dresses and all that girly stuff too) was big!"
With Friday morning free, we went to Boylston Street, the scene of the bombing. There are five prosthetic devices between the four of us, and we were met with countless people asking about our visit while just walking down the street and visiting the memorial. After telling people about Wiggle and what we do, we had strangers shaking our hands and hugging us, all the while thanking us for our efforts and for coming to Boston to help them. They marveled at our ability to share our stories with their fellow Bostonians. To many, they said we gave them closure in that they could see that life does not end with limb loss. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we would be greeted with such overwhelming responses and that we could do so much good, without even knowing it.
For me, the most poignant part of the trip was walking up to the police officers that we saw and thanking them for their heroic efforts. As someone whose life was saved by a police officer tying a tourniquet on my leg, I have never been able to thank the person who saved my life. And from that perspective, I introduced myself to the police officers we met along the way, told them my story, and thanked them for being the silent heroes as first responders. In doing this, I had the honor of meeting a kind soul named, Derek, a Marine who recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. He told me about the events of the day and that he was one of the first responders after the first bomb exploded. It wasn’t until I later met some of his colleagues who told me that he literally saved the lives of countless people when. After the first explosion, he ran into a store, grabbed a bunch of shirts, and used them as tourniquets on the people’s limbs.
Being in Boston taught me about the strength of humanity in times of turmoil. It taught me about the tenacity of the human spirit. And it reminded me that the goodness of people always prevails. For me, life with limb loss has been a gift. I have been given opportunities like Boston. But most importantly, I’ve learned that life is about using that which could limit you to make your life limitless.