Boston, Massachusetts. April 15, 2013. 2:47 p.m.
A flash of white light.
Just moments before, Roseann Sdoia had ordered a drink at a nearby bar as she waited for the automated notification that her friend and runner in the famous Boston Marathon would soon be arriving in Kenmore Square.
As soon as she received the notification, she left her drink and jacket, rushing over to cheer her friend on.
What happened next was something neither she – nor anyone – ever expected.
The first explosion happened just to Roseann’s left. Fervent cheering from the crowd quickly turned into a deafening silence, as people tried to figure out what caused it.
Silence exploded into chaos.
“I thought I was in the middle of a horror movie that no one told me about.”
As Roseann tried to escape, she ran right into the second explosion.
Being pushed backward by the force of the blast, she came to seconds later to find she was laying on top of her leg.
“I knew it was a bad situation. I knew that my leg had been very badly injured. I thought I was in the middle of a horror movie that no one told me about.”
In that frightening, adrenaline-inducing moment, Roseann’s instinct for self-preservation kicked in. Fighting to stay awake, all she could do was focus on not passing out.
“It was definitely touch and go, and knowing that if I didn’t keep myself conscious that I was going to die.”
After being helped by first responders, Roseann was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital’s ICU for immediate treatment of her severe burns and injured right leg, which had to be amputated above the knee.
A week later, she was taken to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s former location in the West End neighborhood for four days. She was then transferred to Spaulding’s new location in Charlestown where she would stay for the next three weeks working through a care program to teach her how to walk with a prothesis and to nurse her back to overall health.
“It was more serene and comforting to be at the new facility. I think the surroundings do make a difference. It puts your head in a different place than thinking that you’re still in hospital mode.”
Along the way, Roseann faced an additional set-back. Trauma from the explosion’s impact led to kidney damage, and she had to return to Massachusetts General for dialysis. After one round, however, she was ready to begin her journey to recovery.
Working through her treatment plan, she made note of the surprising personal touch of care that her team was putting into her as a patient. Although there are many examples and people who come to her mind while describing the high level of care she received, she recalls one specific situation:
“I’ll never forget the therapist, Samantha, who was rubbing lotion on my burn wounds, and I was thinking to myself, ‘You know, this isn’t her job.’”
“But I guess in a way it is,” Roseann continued. “It’s part of the recovery. It’s part of getting use of the hand back. It’s part of getting the skin to grow back. It opened my eyes to all of the different realms of what they have to deal with in helping nurse someone back to physical condition.”
“I'm a huge proponent of inpatient therapy. They have the equipment. They have the resources, the facility, the different things there that can push you.”
Over the next couple of weeks, she quickly realized there was a special connection forming between herself and her entire care team, rooted in the inherent trauma of her situation.
“They do take pride in their work, and there’s a bond. They’re there to help people. It takes a very special, caring person who does this type of work. They’re investing not just in their career, but they’re investing in the person as well.”
During Roseann’s occupational therapy after she was fitted with her prothesis, innovative methods were employed to help her regain balance and relearn weight distribution, including using the Wii video game system to help make her aware of her center of gravity.
“It takes a very special, caring person who does this type of work.”
“I’m a huge proponent of inpatient therapy. They have the equipment. They have the resources, the facility, the different things there that can push you.”
And while she made progress quickly, there were still moments of uncertainty.
Not knowing what would come after she walked out of Spaulding’s doors, Roseann began thinking about her life post-rehabilitation, as an amputee and as a Boston Marathon Bombing survivor.
“I didn’t know about going home and living on my own. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to go back to work. It was life changing. It really made me stop and think about life and how and where I wanted to go.”
With her experience, the opportunities given to her and other survivors, and all the people she met along the way as a result, she found her new calling: becoming a public speaker to motivate, inspire and move others.
“There are not too many female amputees out there, so I feel like I need to connect with others just so that on the female side of things they can see that it’s not the end of the world – it is a struggle in regards to clothes and shoes – but it can happen. It can be done.”
This calling also led to her writing and publishing her book, “Perfect Strangers,” which details how on that fateful day in 2013 — Boston’s “worst day” — unlikely friendship, adventure and strength grew out of tragedy.
A little over eight years later, and she continues to use her platform to help others.
But her personal recovery story isn’t over, and it won’t ever be. She pointed out that while she finished her initial treatment back in May 2013, she must keep her muscles and body strong.
“My amputation is a chronic illness. And unless I stay on top of it, it’s going to get worse. And in order to stay on top of it, I have to exercise. I have to keep moving. I have to keep strengthening those muscles. It will be a lifetime thing, and sometimes you forget that.”
One thing she continues to relay to those she meets and to those who hear her story is the necessity for everyone to be advocates for their own health.
“If you don’t feel as though you’re getting the care that you need or the care that you desire or the care that will bring you or progress you to getting on in life, you need to fight for it. No matter what.”
For Roseann, that meant fighting to ensure she was treated in inpatient medical rehabilitation.
Watch the below recording of Roseann participating as the Patient Perspective Speaker at AMRPA’s Fall Educational Conference & Expo in 2018.
Learn more about the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and the inpatient medical rehabilitation care services they provide.
To learn more about Roseann and follow her ongoing journey, visit her website and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.