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From Austin to Boston: Artificial Limb Company to Help Marathon Bombing Victims Run Again

It’s been a month since the Boston Marathon bombings that injured more than 250 people. At least fourteen lost limbs.

Experts say it takes healthy, strong people about six weeks to recover enough from an amputation to begin considering their prosthetic choices. Austin-based Hanger Orthopedics, one of the largest prosthetics and orthotics companies in the US, says it’s ready to help.

A team of experts awaits at one of Hanger’s clinics in Austin. A company spokesperson is there along with a couple of clinicians and a technician. First, they give me a tour of the facility. Everyone’s upbeat, showing me the latest technology that builds arms and legs. They tell me most people who lose limbs lose their legs.

The rooms are equipped with large mirrors and balance bars. Hanger team members describe their newest scanner with the enthusiasm of a child that made a new discovery. But the cheer is gone once the conversation changes to the events of that tragic afternoon in April at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The team describes the first few minutes after the explosions with words like horror, disbelief, and sadness. Clinician Mark Scott says a weird sense of hope overcame him as soon as it was evident that people lost limbs in the attack – because “that’s what [I do] for work. Help people out, in that respect.”

As experts, Scott and his team know what the physical recovery process will be like for some of the amputees. First, they’ll deal with stuff like surgeries, staples, stitches and skin grafts. Then their minds will have to process the life that’s gone – and the one ahead.

Chad Vidaure lost the lower part of his right leg six years ago. He was just 19 and got, as he describes it, “crushed” between two fork lifts. He says the moments when the patient’s mind is finally aware of the situation are crucial for the person’s mental health, and that’s why Vidaure chooses to visit patients right at that time. “It’s actually comforting to know that you as an amputee can go and talk to someone else and give them hope,” he says. 

Vidaure reassures them “there’s things out there” they can do. He reminds them “[they] can get up back on [their] feet.” He says every time he has the opportunity to pay one of those visits to someone who is still in the hospital “is actually pretty exciting.”

Just as he visits patients now, an amputee visited Vidaure at the hospital when he lost his leg. He says that visit changed his life. Not only did he find the courage to hope he would have a bright future – he also found a fulfilling career.

Vidaure fell in love with the technology that made his first leg and decided to become a technician. He wears his masterpiece – a leg stamped with the Monster Energy logo. He was not used to work the morning shift, so, when he started working for Hanger, he “survived off the Monsters” and “decided to make [the leg] after what kept me going.” It’s like having a tattoo on his artificial leg. 

Vidaure says each person that comes in gets choices, whether “they want [their leg to be] skin tone, or if they want to actually cover it to make it look like their other leg. I’ve done NASCAR ones, butterflies. We make them look pretty amazing.”

Of course, amazing artificial limbs come at an amazing price. Clinician Mark Scott says all sorts of factors are considered in creating each custom-made artificial limb: things like weight and height and lifestyle. Would patients want to go rock climbing or are they mostly sedentary? Every modification adds cost. Scott runs the numbers in his head: “Probably as cheap as seven thousand dollars, based on componentry, probably as high as 100 thousand dollars.”

Hanger says the company is offering assistance to Boston Marathon victims. When patients are ready, Hanger will be there, even for victims who are uninsured. As one of the clinicians put it, they want to feel like they did good for a fellow human being.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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