For Boston bombing survivor, a life-changing decision

Heather Abbott, who was injured in the Boston Marathon blast, had a difficult choice to make: Live with a damaged foot or amputation.
CBS News

(CBS News) BOSTON - As of Friday, there are 29 Boston Marathon bombing victims still being treated in the hospital and one is in critical condition. Many of the wounded have faced a terrible choice between amputation or living with a severely damaged limb. They're called gray zone patients. We met one and the doctor who helped her make a decision.

Following her injury from the Boston Marathon blast, Heather Abbott is considered a gray zone patient: facing a choice between saving a limb or amputation. CBS News

The force of the second explosion blew Heather Abbott into a Boylston Street bar.

"My foot felt like it was on fire and I wouldn't look at it, though," she said, not wanting to know how badly injured she was.

But it was Dr. Eric Bluman's job to tell her. He is an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"It was extensively damaged," Bluman said of Abbott's foot. "Bone, joint, cartilage, ligament -- there was wholesale loss in each of those."

Abbot was given a choice: live with severe pain and limited use of her foot -- or amputation.

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How difficult is it for Bluman to tell someone that they are going to lose a limb? "I think that happens fairly rarely that we tell them that there is no way we can save this limb. Much more frequently, it's a decision-making process that we go through."

Dr. Eric Bluman is an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital who described Heather Abbott's injured foot. CBS News

While the first priority is to save the person's life, the second one may be giving him or her the best possible life. "Sometimes saving the limb is the best choice, and other times it's not," said Bluman.

According to Abbott, Bluman told her she could decide to keep the foot, but she would not be able to use it.

"I think that when he told me the reality of the damage, I certainly didn't want to," she said. "But to know that I wouldn't be able to do any of the things that I love to do for the rest of my life -- I'm 38, so I hopefully I'm going to be around for a while -- I think I would have a miserable life. I don't think I would be happy with that at all."

Abbott will be fitted with a prosthetic leg next month. She hopes to return to the aerobics and jogging she loves by the fall.