Boston marathon bomb survivors inspire medical advances
Boston – In the five years since the Boston Marathon bombing, medical science has made promising advances in amputations and artificial limbs, in part because of lessons learned from the victims and research dollars made available as a result of the attack.
Some of the 17 people who lost limbs in the April 15, 2013, bombing could, like many other amputees, benefit from these developments, since many are coming to a crossroads in their treatment. A number still struggle with pain, and others may be looking to replace their prostheses, which are approaching the end of their useful life.
“The collective experience in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing was a very positive one in the medical community because there was a lot of crosstalk between military and civilian surgeons,” said Dr. Benjamin Potter, chief of orthopedics at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where three survivors were treated and doctors are attempting some of the cutting-edge procedures.
Among other places where research is taking place is Boston, where doctors are working to combine an improved amputation method with more sophisticated artificial limbs so that amputees can one day use their brains to control their prostheses.
The project grew out of lessons learned by Boston doctors treating victims of the marathon attack. It also was made possible by $200,000 in seed funding from the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation, a foundation launched by the family of a bombing survivor treated at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
“One of the things the bombings crystallized for me was the need to improve amputations,” said Dr. Matthew Carty, a Brigham & Women’s surgeon who is developing the new amputation technique. “We’ve made amazing advances in prosthetics technology’ but the way we do amputations hasn’t kept up to speed with the capabilities that exist now.”
The new lower-leg amputation technique, which has so far been done on seven people, preserves tendons normally severed during an amputation.
The hope is that researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can then develop technology that will translate brain signals into movement of an artificial leg.
While the fruits of that work may be years in the future, marathon survivors might also benefit from other encouraging developments.
Bombing survivor Marc Fucarile, who was the last to be released from the hospital, said he is intrigued by the new advances, even if he isn’t in a rush to go under the knife again anytime soon.
The 39-year-old from the Boston area lost his right leg in the blast, and his badly maimed left leg causes him unceasing pain. The artificial limbs that Fucarile and other survivors were fitted with generally last five to seven years, so the patients will have to decide on the right technology for the next phase of their lives.