by Sarah Willson
If someone had told Heather Abbott four years ago that she would become a victim of an attack on American soil, she would have never believed it.
The Newport, Rhode Island resident did what she did every year in April — travel to Boston with friends, attend a Red Sox game and head to a restaurant near the finish line to watch the Boston Marathon runners complete the race.
Little did she know that that day in 2013, her life would change forever.
Abbott was just outside the restaurant, Forum, when she heard the first bomb go off.
Seconds later, the second bomb exploded just feet away from her, causing her to catapult through the restaurant doors and slam into the ground.
“I saw a lot of smoke and a lot of people running and crying,” said Abbott when she spoke at Central Connecticut State University on March 22, to a crowd of about 100 people.
“My foot felt like it was on fire,” said Abbott. “I couldn’t stand up.”
After yelling out for help for what felt like hours, Abbott said someone finally heard her cries and came to the rescue.
Erin Chatham, who was a stranger to Abbott at the time, heard her and ran to get her husband, former Patriots player Matt Chatham, to carry her out of the restaurant.
From there, she was taken to Regimen Women’s Hospital in Boston to get treated.
After several surgeries to determine the best way to treat her injury, doctors recommended that Abbott have her leg amputated.
Her leg was removed below the knee, and she was given a prosthetic limb.
At first, the transition to an artificial limb was “so painful,” said Abbott. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.”
However, with love and support from her family, friends and other survivors, Abbott said she was up and walking on her new leg just a few months later, on the Fourth of July.
“This is the most difficult thing I’ve gone through,” Abbott told the audience.
Now, Abbott says she wants to turn her “mess into a message,” using three “life strategies” she acquired from her experience and hopes to inspire others with.
“I what-if’d and why-me’d for so long,” said Abbott. But then she realized she could not change what had already happened.
For Abbott, accepting that was the first step in embracing her new life.
“I had to accept what happened,” said Abbott. “That was the most important thing I could do.”
Abbott allowed herself to “rely on others for support.”
For her, this meant leaning on her fellow amputee victims for support, 17 of whom also lost limbs in the bombing.
“I’m very grateful to have them in my life” said Abbott. “We still rely on each other now.”
Abbott explained she wanted to “pay it forward” after her accident.
“When you have a tragedy you go through, you can help people [in a similar situation] go through it, too,” said Abbott.
As of today, Abbott travels all over the country, speaking to others and sharing her story.
She now runs the Heather Abbott Foundation, which helps provide prostheses to those who have suffered the loss of a limb through a traumatic experience.
Abbott has continued to attend the Boston Marathon every year and even finished the last half-mile of the race with her rescuer in 2014.
More than anything, she wants to bring hope to those who need it the most.
“I’ve tried my best to make my story worthwhile,” said Abbott. “This was a way for me to inspire others and make sense out of something senseless.”