Heather Abbott has never been one to stand still, even with one leg.
As Abbott told me: “I accepted what happened pretty early on when I recognized that I couldn’t change it.”
On April 15, 2013, Abbott was in the crowd near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when two bombs exploded, killing three and injuring hundreds of others.
Within a matter of days, Abbott made the agonizing decision to have her left leg amputated below the knee. Six years later, her journey, and her story, have become an inspiration and she has become a champion for change.
“I really wanted my old life back,” a resolute Abbott told me, “so in order to do that I had to kind of push through some of the difficult things and concentrate on recovery.”
I try and stop myself when I use the word “victim” because when you look at people like Heather Abbott, they’re survivors.
That strength is strength that I don’t think I have. That resilience is resilience I don’t think I have and it’s so soul-filling really.
But Abbott knew there was more to this fight than strength and resilience during her recovery, it was the pursuit of feeling whole again, to regain her full-self and still feel beautiful. And that meant getting a prosthetic that was not only functional, but cosmetically congruent with the rest of her body.
“For me, when I look down and see a leg that looks real – even though in my mind I know it’s not – something about it just makes me feel better than looking down and seeing a plastic foot,” Abbott said.
She didn’t shy away from the importance of having a prosthetic that looks like her. It was a refreshing approach to a tragic event. She was never worried about feeling vain.
As she told me, “this is part of my recovery, wearing high heels and walking around like the woman that I am.”
But with high heels came the high cost for prosthetics and limited coverage by insurance companies; her recovery soon became a mission.
She started the Heather Abbott Foundation, a nonprofit organization to help others, like herself, who suffered limb loss through traumatic circumstances.
She realized the importance to her of having a life-like prosthetic and the fact that a lot of times insurance companies don’t cover the cost of these.
There was no one better than Abbott to take on this fight. You shouldn’t have to be rich or well-off to be able to afford a limb that looks like your own, period. And that’s what she’s putting an end to for these families.
Abbott’s foundation has raised nearly a million dollars and assisted 25 families in twelve states with cosmetic prosthetics. And she shows no signs of slowing down, meeting with insurance companies and politicians to champion a cause and make a change.
“I think a lot about mastectomies and there was a time when women couldn’t get reconstructive surgery because it wasn’t covered by health insurance but there was a big enough voice as women started to survive breast cancer to explain why it was so necessary, and I feel the same way about cosmetic prosthetics,” Abbott told me.
She remains confident people will start to listen. “There are enough amputees in the United States to have a voice.”
I will never forget the first day I met Abbott years ago after the Boston bombing.
And I’ve been friends with her and covered her as a survivor ever since. She is a true champion, someone who defied the odds. Someone who has fought persistently for everything that she needed and is now a champion for others.
She’s just this ultimate woman, and she sparkles. I don’t know how else to say it, Heather sparkles.