Naval Station Newport celebrated Disability Employment Awareness Month, Oct. 25, in an observance that featured guest speaker Heather Abbott, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombings that left her with traumatic injuries which resulted in the loss of her lower left leg.
Abbott, age 38, spoke about her injuries, her road to recovery, and her acceptance that she is disabled. She wears a prosthetic limb.
Abbott, of Newport, was standing with two friends waiting to enter a restaurant near the marathon finish line, April 15, 2013. The second explosion nearby catapulted her through the front door of the restaurant.
“I heard screams following the first explosion,” Abbott said.
Approximately 18 seconds later, the second explosion occurred.
“I felt as if my foot was on fire,” she said.
With a severely injured left foot, Abbott crawled to the back of the restaurant where she was later helped on to a stretcher for evacuation to Women and Infants Hospital, Boston.
“I think I’m doing pretty well now,” she said, following nearly a six month recovery period.
Abbott attributes much of her successful recovery after surgery to being resilient; receiving support and encouragement from many celebrities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that wanted her to succeed; and being willing to give back.
Abbott said she receives many emails and cards daily that give her encouragement.
Recently, she received a card signed by a group of fifth grade students and their teacher from Illinois.
“The people that have reached out to me are so inspiring,” she said. “I couldn’t change what happened.”
Abbott said the alternative to surgery would have been keeping her leg, but leading a life confined to a wheelchair, and having constant pain.
“I wouldn’t have been able to run,” she said. Now, Abbott uses a prosthetic blade for running.
“I’ve gone through some rough patches like wondering if I could ever wear a dress again,” she said.
Abbott attended Stonehill College as an accounting major and worked in public accounting for a brief time. She changed her career direction and now works in human resources for Raytheon, Portsmouth, R.I. She has a master’s in business administration from Providence College.
She maintains a strong connection with the other 15 amputees who were severely injured in the marathon explosions.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to recognize that I am disabled,” she said.
Abbott said her many opportunities to give back to others who need encouragement has helped to raise awareness about amputees.
“I realize now that I will live the rest of my life as an amputee, but I want to do it in a positive way,” she said.
Abbott said she plans to visit Boston again for the 2014 Boston Marathon.
Press Release, October 28, 2013; Image: US Navy