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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two Marathon Bombing Survivors Develop Lasting Bond

Heather Abbott, left, and Roseann Sdoia are both amputees who developed a lasting bond after last year’s bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Heather Abbott, left, and Roseann Sdoia are both amputees who developed a lasting bond after last year’s bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On the evening before the anniversary of the day that changed their lives, Roseann Sdoia and Heather Abbott met up for dinner. The two women had been acquainted before shrapnel shredded the lower part of Abbott’s left leg and most of Sdoia’s right leg.

Now they’re fast friends who push and inspire each other, offer support and counseling. From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Martha Bebinger of WBUR reports the close bonds among many of the bombing survivors, first responders and their families are a reminder that today’s anniversary is mixed.




Well, Boston is pausing today to remember this day a year ago and the marathon bombings. At today's ceremony at the Hynes Convention Center, former Mayor Tom Menino spoke about a year of firsts.

TOM MENINO: The first birthday without your beloved son, the first holiday without your daughter, the first July Fourth where the fireworks scared you, the first step on a new leg, the first sleep without a nightmare, the first day when you believe that you could live your life in a way that corresponded with your dreams.

YOUNG: Among those taking steps on new legs, Roseann Sdoia and Heather Abbott. They met for dinner last night. They'd been acquainted before the bombing, when shrapnel shredded the lower part of Heather's left leg and most of Roseann's right leg, but now they're close friends.

From the HERE AND NOW contributors network, WBUR's Martha Bebinger reports.

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: Heather Abbott had just arrived at a restaurant near the marathon finish line when the second bomb went off. Roseann Sdoia had just stepped outside to look for a friend. Abbott and Sdoia had come to the event with separate groups of mutual friends. The two women didn't realize they were both amputees until they saw each other weeks later, at a rehabilitation hospital. They still have a hard time accepting what happened.

ROSEANN SDOIA: I'm getting a little bit closer, but it's still really kind of surreal to me.

BEBINGER: That's Sdoia. Here's Abbott.

HEATHER ABBOTT: Sometimes I'll wake up in the morning, to get out of bed, and I'll look down and realize I have to put my leg on. And I think, like, this is never going away.

BEBINGER: Abbott looks down at her left calf and foot. She was wearing a wedge sandal today on her dress-up leg. Dress legs come in different heel sizes.

ABBOTT: When I inventoried my closet, four inches was the most popular one. So that's what I went with.

BEBINGER: Sdoia wore black sandals. The toenails on both feet were a deep purple. Sdoia's testing a new way to keep the sandal on her carbon-fiber foot.

SDOIA: It's not very smooth.


SDOIA: At any moment, that sandal could come off. I mean, it's Velcroed on right now, to the bottom of my foot.

BEBINGER: Sdoia jokes about being jealous, back into her tight jeans first, wearing heels first and running again first. Sdoia, whose amputation is above the knee, has had a more difficult recovery. But each woman feels like she's constantly being fitted for a new socket, as her limb shrinks to adjust to the amputation. Abbott has gone through five different-sized sockets, and is due for another soon.

ABBOTT: I have four different legs, and every time it shrinks, I have to get four different sockets made.

BEBINGER: Abbott and Sdoia and many of the other amputees and survivors see each other and are on the phone with each other a lot. Abbott coached Sdoia through a week of recovery from golf-ball-size socket blisters. They called around this winter, sharing tips about how to pull heavy boots onto mechanical feet and ankles. And Sdoia says the emotional connection is deep.

SDOIA: I have this whole group of people that I'm with on a regular basis who lost something that day. Whether, you know, it was a body part or a leg, we have this crazy bond with each other.

BEBINGER: Which makes the anniversary bittersweet.

SDOIA: It would be nice to have my leg back, but, you know, I actually cherish the friendships that I have with these people at this point.

BEBINGER: Both women have spent some time over the past few days remembering the last things they did with two legs. Abbott is more upset, though, about the three people were still alive at the finish line this time last year.

ABBOTT: Thinking about them, especially the Richard family and the Campbell family, who I've met, makes it more emotional than I would have expected. Maybe I subconsciously am not looking in, because maybe that would kind of send me over the edge. I don't know.

BEBINGER: Abbott will be at the city's marathon tribute today, with 22 of the close friends and family members who pushed her around in a wheelchair, ran errands for her and hosted fundraisers during the last 12 months. Sdoia will be there, too, with family members and the three first responders who may have saved her life. Both women will be remembering the kindness of countless strangers. For Sdoia, a fundraiser at her former elementary school stands out.

SDOIA: The teacher asked them to do different odd jobs at home. And so this one little girl, her parents paid her to pick weeds in the yard.

BEBINGER: A penny a weed. The little girl tugged hard for some time, and brought in 25 weeds.

SDOIA: And she just couldn't pick any more, and she was devastated all she could do was donate a quarter. To me, that was amazing.

BEBINGER: Sdoia went to the elementary school to thank all the children who did odd jobs to help a stranger. It's one of many reasons Sdoia has taken a leave of absence from her job as vice president of a residential property development firm. She's now looking for more formal ways to help others, like amputees.

Abbott is back at her job in human resources at Raytheon, near her home in Newport, Rhode Island. She counsels people who are trying to decide between living with a mangled limb or opting, as Abbott did, for amputation. On marathon Monday, Abbott will be wearing her running leg.

ABBOTT: I am going to finish the marathon with the woman who found me on the ground last year at Forum. She's running it for the first time. And the BAA is going to let me jump in in the last half mile and finish it with her.

BEBINGER: Sdoia plans to be in a special area reserved for survivors. She'll be watching for her surgeon from Mass General, David King, and a group that is running on her behalf.

SDOIA: I should be running with them.

BEBINGER: And maybe, one day, both she and Abbott will. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.


YOUNG: Much more ahead, you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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