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Quadruple Amputee Gains New Arms, From Donor Who ‘Gave Best Hugs’

Will Lautzenheiser looked down at his rosy, fleshy new arm at a Brigham and Women’s Hospital news conference this week and exclaimed, “It’s the most beautiful arm!”

For three years, Lautzenheiser — a quadruple amputee in the wake of a virulent bacterial infection in 2011 — had lived without arms. Now, he and his Brigham and Women’s Hospital transplant team have just revealed, he has two new ones, the gifts of an anonymous donor. A medical team of 35, including 13 surgeons, operated on him for nine hours last month to attach them.

Lautzenheiser, 40, spoke with us last year in the video above about his “sit-down” comedy career: “Did You Hear The One About The Comedian With No Arms And Legs?” That armless footage is now outdated.

It will take months for the new arms and hands to gain sensation and function, but Lautzenheiser, a former film professor at Boston University, says he’s already putting them to good use, hugging his partner, Angel Gonzalez. “To be able to hold my love in my arms again is really the best,” he said.

Arm transplant recipient Will Lautzenheiser uses his new arms to hug his partner, Angel Gonzalez, at a Brigham and Women's Hospital press conference. (Photo courtesy BWH)

Arm transplant recipient Will Lautzenheiser uses his new arms to hug his partner, Angel Gonzalez, at a Brigham and Women’s Hospital press conference. (Photo courtesy BWH)

The late donor put those arms to similar use, as described in a message from his family that New England Organ Bank President Richard Luskin read aloud to Lautzenheiser: “Our son gave the best hugs. We pray that you make a wonderful recovery and that your loved ones will be able to enjoy your warm embrace.”

Thus far, Lautzenheiser says, his new arms have little sensation, mainly just a bit of feeling in the skin right below where they’re joined to his own body. As for moving them, “If I really focus, I can occasionally move my thumb just a little bit, a few millimeters. It bends. I can pronate and supinate my wrist on my right arm. I have a little bit of wrist motion, a little bit of forearm motion.” Continue reading

100 Days Later, Marathon Bombing Survivor Leaves Rehab

BOSTON — After 16 surgeries that included 49 procedures, Boston Marathon bombing survivor Marc Fucarile, of Stoneham, is going home.

Police rushed the 34-year-old to Massachusetts General Hospital 100 days ago. His skin still smoldered. Blood gushed out of both legs.

“His injuries include amputation of his right leg above his knee, multiple fractures of his left leg and foot, burn injuries to his legs, trunk, back and pelvis,” said Dr. Jeffrey Schneider, one of Fucarile’s physicians after he moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. The list also includes a fractured spine, ruptured eardrums and multiple shrapnel wounds to Fucarile’s extremities and torso.

Marathon bombing victim Marc Fucarile speaks before departing Spaulding Rehab Hospital Wednesday. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Marathon bombing victim Marc Fucarile speaks before departing Spaulding Rehab Hospital Wednesday. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

“Wow, I forgot how much it really was,” Fucarile said Wednesday, shaking his head.

When he arrived at Spaulding, Fucarile couldn’t even sit up in bed for any length of time. On Wednesday, he hobbled on crutches into the hospital lobby. Spaulding staff and Fucarile’s family members applauded. Fucarile smiled, but sobered as he recounted his ordeal.

“It’s just been tough, real tough, especially when my son’s home sick, Jen’s not sleeping,” he said. “At times I just want to check out.”

Fucarile glanced at his 5-year-old son Gavin and his fiancée Jen Regan. Their support, he said — along with all the cards taped to his wall, donations and hand-knit blankets he’s been sleeping under — have helped him through many nights of pain and motivated him to stretch new skin and shriveled muscles.

“I know that I have the rest of my life, thanks to the people who were there that day who helped me and saved me,” he said. “I’d go through 100 more procedures as long as I can be there to go home with him.”

Gavin smiled and giggled through most of Fucarile’s press conference. Regan, Fucarile’s longtime companion, joked that she’s been getting the house ready for his return. “We got a frontload dryer and washer so he can do the laundry in his wheelchair.” Continue reading

A BB In His Heart, Last MGH Bombing Patient Heads To Rehab

Near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, a firefighter worked feverishly to stop blood pumping out of Marc Fucarile’s right leg. By the time he finished a tourniquet and called for help, all available ambulances had left Boylston Street, full of marathon bombing patients. A police officer volunteered the spare seats of his wagon, typically used to transport prisoners. The two men raced Fucarile, his skin still smoldering, to Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Yeah,” Fucarile said with a laugh, “with a police officer screaming out the window, ‘Get out of the way!’ I think I might have been on a bench part of the seat and the firefighter was trying to hold me on there. I was slamming my head a lot.”

Marc Fucarile, the most seriously injured bombing patient treated at MGH, is ready to leave for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Marc Fucarile, the most seriously injured bombing patient treated at MGH, is ready to leave for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Surgeons told Fucarile if he’d arrived two or three minutes later than he did he would have lost too much blood and died.

Now, 45 days later, Fucarile is checking out of Mass General, a hospital he says rivals 10 star hotels. He has a BB lodged in his heart that doctors say is better to leave for now. His right leg was amputated twice — above the knee after an infection invaded the first wound. And he may still lose the lower part of his left leg. But Fucarile is ready for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. (Just one marathon bombing patient has not moved on to rehab: Ericka Brannock is expected to leave Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Friday.)

While Fucarile, who’s from Stoneham, celebrates the next step in his recovery, his future, as with many marathon bombing patients, is uncertain.

“It’s still wide open, it hasn’t been healed or shut yet,” Fucarile said describing the wound. “It has sharp pains and the meds can’t do nothing about it.” Continue reading

Marathon Bombing Victim Makes The Decision To Amputate

Heather Abbott, of Newport, R.I., underwent a below the knee amputation on her left leg following injuries she sustained at the Boston Marathon bombings. (Steven Senne/AP)

On Monday, one week after the Boston Marathon bombing, surgeons removed Heather Abbott’s left leg below the knee.

The 38-year-old from Newport, R.I., became the 15th explosion victim to lose a limb. Unlike many patients, Abbott made the decision herself after hearing the pros and cons from doctors and other patients who faced a similar decision in the past.

Abbott’s Story

Heather Abbott was in Boston for her annual Patriot’s Day pilgrimage. She and a group of friends took in the Red Sox game and then went to watch the Boston Marathon. They were waiting to get into Forum, a bar near the finish line, when the first blast hit.

“I was the last of the three of us in line,” Abbott said. “A loud noise went off. I remember turning around and seeing smoke and people screaming.”

Then, before Abbott could turn around again, a second explosion blew her into the bar.

“I felt like my foot was on fire,” Abbott recalled in a calm, measured voice that belies her experience. “I was just screaming, ‘Somebody please help me.’ And I was thinking, ‘Who’s going to help me?’ I mean everyone’s just running for their lives. To my surprise there were two women and two men who helped me get out of the bar and into an ambulance.”

One of the men, Abbott learned, was former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham. Abbott had surgery immediately at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to restore shattered veins and get blood flowing to her left foot. After follow-up operations, doctors told Abbott they could “salvage” her foot, but amputating her leg below the knee and fitting her with a prosthetic limb might be a better option.

Continue reading

MIT Expert: New Tech Means Bomb Amputees Could Run 2014 Marathon

“I’ll make the following claim: If a person has lost a leg in this Boston attack — if they’re motivated and generally healthy and reasonably athletic — they could, given current technology, they could walk or run across the finish line at the Boston Marathon this time next year.”

Making that bold statement is Hugh Herr, the renowned prosthetics and assistive technology expert who heads the Biomechatronics research group at MIT’s Media Lab (and is himself a double amputee). That’s what he said in response to my question about the future of the many victims who lost legs in Monday’s Marathon bombing. The current count, according to area hospitals, is 13 amputations.

What accounts for Herr’s optimism? Well, he’s already developed the world’s first powered ankle-foot prosthesis, which is being sold commercially and has been used by about 500 people. Also, Herr is a highly motivated guy: six months after his lower legs were amputated in 1982 after a climbing accident in which he got severe frostbite, he was walking — and climbing mountains again.

Indeed, Herr’s own artificial limbs are pretty powerful, with “…12 computers, five sensors and muscle-like actuator systems that able me to move throughout my day,” he told Terry Gross back in 2011.

These days, he said, speaking by phone from Spain, the long-term prognosis for patients with legs amputated below the knee, whether it’s one or both legs, “is very good.” For instance, the person will be able to “drive a car without hand controls, walk or run if they’re inclined,” he said. Continue reading