Woman injured in marathon blast faces challenges

Tuesday - 4/23/2013, 1:40pm EDT

ALLEN G. BREED
AP National Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- As this shocked city observed a moment of silence, Heather Abbott was following through on a difficult decision -- allowing doctors to amputate her left foot, which was mangled in the bombings that shattered the Boston Marathon.

From her bed at Brigham and Women's Hospital on Monday, the 38-year-old Rhode Island woman reflected on the terror of April 15 -- and on the waves of agony and grace that followed in the week since.

"I'm trying to be positive about things," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview before her surgery. "And hope that my life doesn't have to change much."

The day of the bombings, Abbott and a half-dozen friends took in the traditional Patriots' Day Red Sox game at Fenway Park. They left early and headed to Forum, where a friend tends bar and where former New England Patriots were gathered to raise money for offensive guard Joe Andruzzi's cancer foundation.

The restaurant is at 755 Boylston Street, not far from the marathon's finish line.

Abbott was at the back of the long line, waiting as bouncers checked ID's, when the first blast went off. Unlike many, she knew exactly what it was.

"I felt like I was watching the footage on 9/11," said Abbott, who works in human resources for Raytheon Company in Portsmouth, R.I.

Abbott was scrambling to get off the sidewalk when the force of a second blast blew her through the restaurant doorway.

After she'd regained her senses, she tried to stand, but her left foot felt "as if it were on fire." Unable to find her friends in the smoke and confusion, she called out to the panicked crowd.

"Somebody, please help me," Abbott shouted as people scrambled for the rear exits, not knowing whether there were more explosions to come. She'd begun to give up hope when a woman walked up and began dragging her toward the door, quietly reciting a Catholic prayer as she tugged.

"Hail Mary, full of grace...," the woman intoned.

The woman had pulled Abbott a few feet when a burly man stepped in, picked her up and carried her out the back door into an alley. She would later learn it was former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham.

Jason Geremia spotted them and shouted, "Please give her to me. She's my friend."

The linebacker lay Abbott on the ground and rushed off to help others. Friend Alfred Colonese of Newport, R.I., took off his belt and used it as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

Someone found a piece of wood in the alley. The friends were preparing to carry her out on it when a medic appeared and told them not to move her. Soon, rescuers appeared with a gurney and wheeled Abbott back through the Forum and out the front door, Colonese said.

Abbott didn't have the heart to look at her foot, but as she was being carried away, she glanced back and saw a trail of her blood.

She was loaded into a packed ambulance: Beside her was a man on a gurney, an oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. As a worker inserted an IV into her arm, Abbott could hear the driver shouting to the crowd outside, "Make a hole! Make a hole!"

Rescuers asked her repeatedly for her first and last names. A woman asked if there was someone she wanted them to call. In a world of cell phones and speed dial, the only number she knows by heart was her parents' back in Lincoln, R.I.

Abbott could tell that her mother, Rosemary, was frantically asking questions. The man simply told her that her daughter had been injured, and that she and her husband, Dale, should come to Brigham.

During the ambulance ride, Abbott struggled to keep her eyes open.

"I felt like if I closed them," she said, "maybe I wouldn't be able to open them again."

When the ambulance arrived, workers rushed Abbott to surgery, where doctors stabilized her and cleaned her wound. She had a second surgery on Thursday to clean the wound and allow specialists to better assess the situation. The blast had broken her ankle and shattered several small bones in her foot.

That same day, first lady Michelle Obama visited Abbott's room. She told Abbott how brave she was, and gave her a presidential "challenge coin" -- a token traditionally presented to wounded service members and their families. One side bears the presidential seal, the other an engraving of the White House.