Boston blast victim focused on recovery, not malice for suspects

McClatchy NewspapersApril 25, 2013 

Boston Marathon Victims Tough Choice

Heather Abbott, of Newport, R.I., underwent a below the knee amputation during surgery on her left leg following injuries she sustained at the Boston Marathon bombings


— A Boston Marathon bomb mangled Heather Abbott’s left foot so badly that she chose to have it amputated. Yet even as she starts her long path toward recuperation, she says she feels no malice and is giving little thought to the two men accused of the crime.

Abbott – one of more than 260 injured in the bomb blasts and among more than a dozen to undergo amputations – spoke Thursday as investigators continued to comb for clues in Boston and in Russia, and as authorities in New York alleged that the two brothers accused of the bombing had planned more mayhem in Times Square.

In hospitals across Boston, there was a sense of hope and recovery, no more so than at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where an ebullient Abbott, her beaming family at her side, told the world she’s focused on her own recovery, not the brothers accused in the bombings.

“I haven’t even thought about them at all. I don’t even know how to pronounce their names,” said Abbott, 38, who spoke Thursday still tethered to a hospital monitor, her left leg covered with a temporary cast. “I’m sure at some point I will be interested in the people that did this, but I haven’t let my mind go there.”

Like the city that’s been embraced by an outpouring of support, the Rhode Island native said she’d been buoyed by “general interest and caring” from friends, family and “people I don’t even know.”

If anyone had told her she would’ve been so grievously injured, she said, “I think I would have been devastated, and I really haven’t had a moment of being devastated.”

Physicians across town say they’re seeing similar results, though they caution that the wounded have a long path to recovery.

"Overall, people are moving forward every day," said Dr. Ronald E. Hirschberg, a trauma rehabilitation specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "I’ve seen some signs of resilience that are pretty amazing."

Abbott and her physician, Dr. Eric Bluman, said they were convinced she’d be able to return to the life she once enjoyed – after months of therapy, and the use of a prosthetic.

"People can find a new normal, a new life," Hirschberg said. "They can really surprise you."

Hirschberg said he’d helped with the initial care of five marathon patients who lost limbs in the bombings. Some had a leg amputated below the knee; others above the knee. The patients will be moved eventually to the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, scheduled for a formal opening this weekend.

That’s where Abbott, who lost her leg below the knee, will go for rehab, “as soon as possible,” she quipped.

Abbott, who lives in Newport, R.I., and works as a human resources manager at Raytheon Corp., was with friends on a traditional Patriots Day trip to Boston and was in line at a bar near the blast site when the bombs went off.

The second explosion knocked her to the ground, her foot feeling as if it were on fire. She screamed for help, but she said she was thinking, “Who is going to help me? Everyone was running for their lives.”

Four people stepped forward to help her to safety, she said, including former New England Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham.

The Boston-area hospitals that were swamped with patients in the aftermath of the explosions have since been able to discharge most patients. Boston Children’s Hospital, for instance, at one point had nine patients. By Thursday, it had discharged all but one, a 7-year-old girl who was listed in serious condition.

All told, Boston-area hospitals reported treating 264 marathon bombing victims as of Thursday, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. Officials initially had pegged the number of wounded at 180, but the figure rose as people came forward, complaining of lingering problems such as hearing loss or ringing in the ears.

Questions continued to arise Thursday about U.S. counter-terrorism agencies’ handling of warnings beginning nearly two years before the attack that Tamerlan Tsarnaev might pose a threat. The FBI acknowledged last week that Russia had told it in March of 2011 that Tsarnaev had become a radical jihadist, but the agency said its three-month investigation had failed to tie him to extremist groups.

In the latest disclosure, a U.S. intelligence official said the CIA received “nearly identical” information in late September 2011 and nominated Tsarnaev for inclusion in the U.S. government’s watch-listing system, sharing the information with key federal law-enforcement and counter-terrorism agencies. The official, who lacked authorization to speak for the record, said the CIA shared all the information, including two possible birth dates, Tsarnaev’s name and a potential name variant.

However, nothing came of Tsarnaev’s listing among hundreds of thousands of people whose behavior or backgrounds have raised antennae among counter-terrorism analysts and agents. Tsarnaev was able to fly to Chechnya in January 2012 and return to Boston six months later. Investigators are now trying to determine whether he trained for the attack or received guidance or assistance from Chechen rebels.

On Capitol Hill, the fact-gathering continued Thursday, along with partisan criticism as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina explicitly blamed an Obama administration "system failure" for the Boston bombing.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a member of the House of Representatives intelligence panel, which has been briefed on the matter, said the FBI was doing a “good job trying to figure out what happened and how it happened," but that he wanted "to make sure we fully understand how our working with foreign governments can be enhanced."

Some lawmakers questioned the decision to read the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his Miranda rights Monday, amid reports that FBI questioning stopped at that point.

"Was the FBI done with the interrogation?" said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a member of the intelligence committee. “My guess is, I don’t believe they were. That was an opportunity to get actionable intelligence that was stopped. My guess is there was still valuable information to be gotten."

Greg Gordon contributed to this report.

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