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I lost my leg in the Boston Marathon bombing. Here's why I'm running in this year's race.

Near the finish line of today's Boston Marathon, Rebekah Gregory DiMartino will run past the spot where she was standing during the bombing two years ago. Feet away from the explosion, she suffered traumatic injuries that led to the amputation of her left leg below the knee in November 2014. She's since learned to walk — and run — on a prosthetic leg. She told her story and explained why she's running this year's Boston Marathon to Joseph Stromberg.

When we were standing there, watching the marathon, my five-year-old son, Noah, was getting a little bored and antsy. So I told him he could sit on my feet and play with the rocks on the ground.

That's where he was when the bomb went off. Originally, I thought it had been 10 or 15 feet away from me. But the FBI recently told me that it was three feet away.

I was also told that if Noah had been standing up like he was before, he would have died instantly. But because he was sitting on my feet, the backs of my legs shielded him. My legs took the brunt of the impact — and he survived.

When the bomb went off

It almost felt like watching an explosion in a movie in slow motion. Everything was so chaotic that I didn't really have time to register complete thoughts that made sense.

DiMartino after mouth surgery in August 2014.

Bones were lying next to me on the sidewalk. There were body parts and blood everywhere. It was the most horrific scene you could possibly describe. I watched one girl, standing right in front of me, take her last breath. That's one of the hardest parts of moving forward from this — I can't control the nightmares I have when I'm asleep.

Immediately I started frantically trying to figure out where my son was.

I couldn't hear anything, because my eardrums were blown out immediately, but somehow I could hear him screaming. I don't know how, but I'm certain of it. Then I saw him out of the corner of my eye, so I tried to lift my arm up and pull him toward me.

When I did that, I realized that the skin had totally peeled off my hand, and my bones were sticking out. My skin was peeled back to my wrist. At that point, I said, "God, if this is it for me, take me, but let me know that Noah's okay."

And right then, my aunt — who didn't get as seriously injured — picked up Noah and sat him down next to me. For me, it was a sign that I really was going to die right then. I saw that Noah was okay, and started worrying about myself.

The aftermath

After medical personnel got there, I was taken to an ambulance. Inside it, everyone was focusing on my legs, but I kept wanting them to pay attention to my arms — my hand and my wrist were hurting so badly.

Then I heard someone yelling, "We have an amputee!" And at that moment, I knew that if I was to make it, my legs might be gone.

We got to the hospital, and I was coherent enough to give them my mom's number to call. After that, they rushed me into emergency surgery and put me in an induced coma.

My recovery

I stayed in a coma for about a week, and then I started waking up and realizing where I was. I thought I was an amputee. My mom actually had to take a picture of my legs and show me I hadn't lost them.

But my left leg was destroyed from the knee down: my bones were crushed, my arteries were severed, the bomb had taken chunks out of my muscle tissue. On my right leg, I had more superficial injuries, like shrapnel that had ripped apart my skin, and some fractures. My left hand had to be put back together with pins and stitches. Weirdly, the blast shifted all my teeth — two of them fell out, and two had so much internal bleeding that they turned black. And of course my eardrums had burst, and half of my left eardrum is still gone.

I thought that if all I had to do was chop my leg off, then let's get on with it. Let's do it.

With injuries like this, I was in and out of surgery every other day. Before they could even start to close me up, they had to clean out my wounds — take out the ball bearings, the nails, the BBs, all the shrapnel from the bomb.

I developed osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone that almost took my leg at the start. Then when they went in for surgery, the infection was gone, so they wanted to try salvaging the leg.

In total, I had 11 surgeries in Boston. After 39 days, I was flown to Houston, where I was living, and had another couple of surgeries. Altogether, I was in the hospital for 56 days.

When I got back to my mom's house, I weighed 79 pounds. And I'm 5-foot-8. I was in terrible shape — it was a total-body recovery.

Why I decided to have my leg amputated

Initially, I was completely bedridden. I had a hole in my foot, and they took blood vessels and other tissue out of my spine and used it to fill the hole. At first, I could only have my foot on the ground for 10 minutes every hour. It slowly increased from there, but it was a very long process.

As months went by, I tried to build up endurance, but I kept having to have surgeries on my leg. They tried fusion, where they fused all my bones together. They tried putting rods through my bones to pull my foot up so I could bear weight on it. The whole time I was in a wheelchair, or in crutches. I was constantly in extreme pain — I didn't go four hours without pain medication from the day of the bombing.

We tried every avenue possible to save my leg. But gradually I realized all it was doing was holding me back. Eventually, I was just done with it — it wasn't helping me live the life I wanted to live. I thought that if all I had to do was chop my leg off, then let's get on with it. Let's do it.

How my leg amputation saved me

Coming out of surgery was the most liberating feeling I'd felt in a long time. I was so relieved. And even with the pain from the surgery, I still had less pain the day after than I'd had the previous 18 months. I really felt like that day, I took my life back. I was done living in limbo.

DiMartino a few days after her amputation surgery.

Since then, I've been adapting to not having a leg. It's still definitely weird to me to look down and not see it there. But every time I do, I'm reminded of how blessed I am to still be here. It really puts things in perspective for me. It prevents me from taking any moment for granted, ever again. I have a constant reminder, and I'm genuinely glad about that.

I took my first steps on December 31, with a test socket, in the doctor's office. It was awesome. I kept joking that I was starting my year off on a new leg, and I really was.

Then, on January 7, I got to take my new leg home. I nicknamed her Felicia, and did a birth announcement on Facebook, because she's really a new addition to my family.

It's been hard. Having a prosthetic is not the most fun thing in the world. They say it gets easier over time, but it hurts — your bone is grinding on a piece of carbon fiber. Imagine your elbow rubbing up against a hard surface for a couple of hours.

It's a learning process, every single day. I'm an extremely new amputee, so I'm learning tricks of the trade from others — my trainer at the gym here is also a below-the-knee amputee, so he's been extremely helpful. He pushes me, but he knows when not to push me. It's been a blessing to have him around.

Why I'm running the Boston marathon

I wasn't really a runner before. I was the person standing on the sidelines eating chocolate-covered pretzels, watching other people run the marathon. I did run a half marathon a few years back, but I hated every minute of it. It was awful.

But somehow, Boston has given me so much motivation. It makes me want to show people that this has brought me down, for an extended period of time, but now, I'm moving forward. I'm just going to keep getting better, and doing more and more.

I have to run that marathon — for myself, and for everyone watching to see that it's only made me stronger.

My thoughts on the bombing

In Boston, the bomber was actually brought into the same hospital as me, and every time I had to go to surgery, I'd pass him. The guards would be standing there, and my mom says that's when she got really angry — she just wanted to go in there and kill him.

But I haven't spent much time thinking about it. Most of this time, I've just been focusing on recovery, and trying to get through to the next day. I have not kept up with anything — in terms of what he's doing, and the case, and anything like that.

I have to run that marathon — for myself, and for everyone to see that it's only made me stronger

Spending my time being angry at him, or upset, will only delay me from reaching my goals.

I'm going to run the Boston Marathon. I can't wait to reach the starting line.


Lead image: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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