BOSTON (CBS) — Five years ago, Gillian Reny was one of the many injured by the Boston Marathon bombings. The doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital saved her life, and her injured legs.
Her family, in turn, created The Stepping Strong Center at Brigham and Women’s, which supports research for innovative trauma care. They have awarded 20 grants totaling about $2 million in research since it was founded in 2014, and that research has already impacted several lives.
“I think the experience of caring for many marathon victims … pushed us to take this idea and notion about a better amputation and turn it into a reality,” said Dr. Matthew Carty, the director of the Lower Extremity Transplant Program at Brigham and Women’s.
The idea behind the Ewing Amputation — named for its first recipient — was being discussed even before the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It’s a procedure that would protect the nerves and muscles at the point of amputation and allow the normal communication between the brain and limb to continue. The Stepping Strong Center made it happen in 2016, when 52-year-old Jim Ewing had his lower left leg removed.
A friend of Ewing’s, Tammy Jerome, also underwent the surgery following years of suffering from the after-effects of tendon surgery in her left foot. The New Hampshire mother of four decided that amputation was her best option.
“I was more than ready,” Jerome recalls. “I had a leg there, but it didn’t function and it held me back from doing things with my family.”
She underwent the Ewing procedure last August. The healing process has taken time, but just this past week, she had the final fitting for her new leg.
“It’s crazy. It gives life back,” she said. “It’s fantastic.”
Once an avid skier, Jerome is now ready to make up for lost time. Her first challenge won’t come on the slopes, but on the streets of Boston this weekend in the B.A.A. 5K on Saturday.
“I was still legless when I signed up,” she said. “I think it’s a very small example of these cumulative small events that define somebody recapturing their life.”
Jerome plans to “fast walk” the race, prompting her daughter to joke that she’s running before she can walk. She thanks the Reny family and Stepping Strong, and Dr. Carty (who is also running the B.A.A. 5K) for getting her back on her feet.
“It’s benefiting not only myself, but a lot of other people,” she said.
The next step in this evolution — smart limbs. Robotic prosthetics being developed at MIT that communicate with the brain, enabling motion much like a natural leg.
Jerome has had the opportunity to try one of these limbs.
“It actually feels like it’s part of you,” she explains. “To not have your foot there, but have something like it that feels like it’s part of you, it’s just amazing.”
“If we can offer patients like Tammy the ability to not have to think about doing things normally. If the every day is just the every day like for the majority of us, that’s a huge win,” said Dr. Carty. “That’s forgetting disability. That’s feeling whole again.”
While that is still a ways down the road for Jerome, the B.A.A. 5K is just around the corner. She also plans on being back on skis by the end of the year.
“It’s given me a whole new outlook on things I couldn’t do before. It’s a whole new beginning,” said Jermone.