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Step by step, marathon amputee reinvents her life

Tuesday - 10/15/2013, 7:45am  ET

AP: 42d251bc-20e2-49aa-b995-85a7d8f43f30
In this Friday, May 31, 2013 photo, Mery Daniel, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, rolls her wheelchair down Boylston Street in Boston, with her husband, Richardson Daniel, after visiting the explosion site where she lost most of her left leg. Daniel hopes to regain her independence and walk again. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
  • Gallery: (4 images)

BRIDGET MURPHY
Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) -- In late May, Mery Daniel went back to Boylston Street.

Six weeks before, on April 15, she had joined the throng of spectators at the Boston Marathon. She'd treated herself to hot chocolate and a pancake at a cafe before heading alone to the finish line to cheer runners at the end of America's most famous race.

"This is where I was," she said, her wheelchair gliding to a stop outside the Marathon Sports store.

It was on this spot that everything changed -- where twin pressure cooker bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others, including at least 16 people who lost a limb or limbs. It was on this spot where the world came to regard Daniel, a 31-year-old medical school graduate and Haitian immigrant, as a victim.

"God bless you," a young guitarist told Daniel outside Marathon Sports, before quickly taking his song somewhere else on the street.

Before the bombing, she had loved to roam and explore Boston, the city where she had become an American citizen five years earlier.

"Please save my legs," she had begged the doctors before blacking out in the operating room.

But they amputated her left leg above her knee before she woke up. It was the price she paid for her life. Her heart had stopped twice after she lost consciousness.

Daniel's wheelchair stood out when she returned to Boylston Street. Strangers saw her on the street, and a question flickered in some of their eyes: Was she one of the marathon bombing amputees?

She no longer could blend easily into a crowd, or go where she wanted when she wanted. But Daniel was determined to go forward without fear, and to see herself as a survivor, not a victim. To do that, she knew she would have to walk again.

___

Daniel heard the boom seconds after staking out a spot across from Boston Public Library's central branch.

Suddenly, she was on the ground, her lower left leg dangling by skin, its bone split open and arteries and nerves blown to bits. A pancreatic laceration left Daniel bleeding on the inside. Projectiles ravaged the rear of her right calf, and doctors had to cut away ruined muscles and tendons and graft skin from elsewhere on her body to repair what they could.

Daniel did not cry when she awoke from surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. And she did not cry on all the days after, even when she went back to Boylston Street.

The kind of determination she would show in the aftermath of the bombing was not new. She had emigrated from Haiti just before turning 17, graduating from Brockton High School before attending University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She headed to Europe for medical school after college, doing some traveling when she wasn't studying.

Before the marathon, the international medical graduate had been studying for the last part of her medical boards so she could qualify to work as a doctor in the United States. She'd been thinking about pursuing psychiatry as her specialty.

But now, she turned all that energy to her recovery.

After leaving Massachusetts General, Daniel spent about three weeks at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where she exercised for three hours a day.

But when the time came to leave, she couldn't go home. Before the marathon, Daniel had lived in a second-story apartment with her husband, Richardson, their 5-year-old daughter, and her husband's parents in Boston's Mattapan section. But the location wouldn't work with a wheelchair, forcing Daniel and her husband to move to a hotel near Spaulding for a while.

Without a permanent home, Daniel worked to transition from using a wheelchair to crutches, refusing to use a walker to smooth the way from one to the other. Going down stairs was especially tricky.

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.

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