Wounded Warriors Inspire Boston Marathon Amputee
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
BETHESDA, Md., Jun. 12, 2013 Wounded warrior amputees at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center here got a chance today to share the wisdom and experience they’ve gained through tough rehabilitation and prosthetic fittings with a man who lost a leg during the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings.
Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills speaks with J.P. Norden, right, injured by the second bomb blast during the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, during Norden's visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., June 12, 2013. J.P. and his brother, Paul, each lost a leg and were burned and pelted with shrapnel while shielding other spectators following the first bomb explosion. Mills, one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries, offered Norden encouragement for his recovery. Mills was with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was critically injured on April 10, 2012, by an improvised explosive device while on patrol, losing portions of both legs and both arms. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center photo by Bernard S. Little
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
J.P. Norden and his brother, Paul, were cheering on a friend at the finish line of the marathon when they were injured in the second bomb blast. Each brother lost a leg.
The brothers’ surgeon -- Dr. E.J. Caterson, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston -- recently accepted an invitation from Walter Reed officials to visit and learn about the latest medical and surgical advances in similar blast injuries seen in wounded warriors.
“This is an incredible place,” Caterson said of the Military Advanced Training Center -- essentially, a rehabilitation center and gym.
Caterson brought other hospital staff members and J.P. Norden to learn about blast injury amputations and prosthetics from the wounded warriors and their doctors. Paul Norden also was scheduled to attend, but was unable to do so for medical reasons, his brother said.
“I wanted J.P. to see his peers around him who have gone through the same thing as he did, and I want him to see the incredible energy this place has, the incredible expertise and the motivation to say, ‘Let’s get better,’” Caterson said.
“Walter Reed has the most experience with amputees,” he added. “[The doctors] shared with us their expertise, because there are some difficult decisions we’re making” in fitting patients with prosthetics and providing rehabilitation programs.
While the group toured the center, Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, a quadruple amputee, greeted Norden as if he were an old friend. As it turned out, Mills and Norden already had met. Mills said that soon after the marathon explosion, he and a few other wounded warriors from Walter Reed traveled to Boston to inspire the amputee victims.
“We worked out with them and pushed them,” Mills said. “We told them, ‘Hey man, there’s life after amputation.’”
Marine Corps Sgt. Luis Remache, who lost both legs in a grenade attack in Afghanistan, told Norden that challenges always would exist with prosthetics. Norden does not yet have a prosthetic leg.
“It’s all on you,” Remache told Norden. “Set a goal and work toward it. At first, I depended on everyone, and people had to carry me. I wondered how I would ever drive. Now I can hand cycle and swim,” he said.
“Some days you’ll get down, but it all gets better,” advised single-leg amputee Army Sgt. Ryan Long. Long was on patrol in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province when the vehicle in which he was traveling hit a roadside bomb.
“You’ll find the little things in life are really meaningful,” he added.
Norden, whose amputation is below the knee, seemed overwhelmed by the room filled with several dozen wounded warriors who were pushing themselves in their workouts.
“I’m just amazed,” he said of the peer support and energetic atmosphere. “It’s unbelievable that there are so many people like me here, but worse. I see people doing everyday things. It makes me know it can happen. I wish my brother were here.”
Norden said he wants to drive. “But I want to walk again more than anything,” he added.
Because peer support is important for amputees, Caterson said, the Walter Reed staff has military connections in Boston and has offered to find support for the civilian patients.
“The military, besides this visit, has offered support longitudinally for these patients, which is phenomenal,” Caterson said.