Breaking Up With Troublesome Leg a ‘Healthy’ Outlook for Amputee Rebekah DiMartino

Pete DiMartino assists his fiance Rebekah Gregory with the apparatus she used to help her walk down the aisle during their wedding ceremony. (Credit: Ilana Panich-Linsman for NBCnews.com)
March 23, 2014: Pete DiMartino assists his wife Rebekah. Rebekah DiMartino has had 16 surgeries to try and salvage her left leg, which was seriously wounded in the Boston Marathon attacks - but it hasn't worked.

On November 9, Rebekah DiMartino got to do something most amputees don’t get the chance to do. She broke up with her left leg.

DiMartino, a 27-year-old from Houston, Texas, was critically injured at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. After 17 surgeries and more than a year of painful recovery to bring her leg back to its previous strength and functionality, the bottom of DiMartino’s left leg became less and less a part of her that she wanted to hold on to. She wanted to run the Boston Marathon, she wanted to stop living in hospitals, but mostly she wanted to move on.

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Doctor Chris Carter, the director of psychology at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, works with amputees and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings. He said in an interview with Boston.com Tuesday that DiMartino’s situation is a rare, stark contrast to other amputees who either immediately lose their limbs due to trauma or relatively quickly in surgery once they are admitted to the hospital. She got to say goodbye.

The bombs that exploded at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon killed three people and injured more than 260 others. Many of the amputees from that day lost their limbs in the immediate aftermath.

Anxiety and depression are extremely common for amputees, but Carter said DiMartino’s approach to losing her left leg, as if she’s breaking up with a boyfriend, “strikes me as a really healthy way of working through it just as a real relationship with another outside person you’ve been very attached to.’’

Disassociating and rejecting a part of her own body reflects what often happens when an individual who has been able bodied all their lives now sees their body as a barrier to what they want to achieve.

“Typically our relationship with our body is it’s our agent, and we don’t think about it very much. So in a situation like Rebekah’s, now you’re in battle with that limb,’’ said Carter. “It’s working against you, it’s getting in the way and preventing you from moving forward.’’

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Like a bad boyfriend that’s hung around too long.

Which limb and whether or not it’s above or below the elbow or knee can make a tremendous difference in the severity and psychological impact of the amputation, said Carter. But you see with other amputee populations, such as soldiers or blast injury victims, that over time they come to peace with the missing limb.

One of the healthiest and most productive decisions for amputees in recovery is getting involved in adaptive sports that push their bodies to bigger physical goals than perhaps they previously would have aimed for.

“It’s striking how frequently people who maybe weren’t athletes before become them [after losing a limb],’’ said Carter. “Rebekah’s goal to run the Boston Marathon this spring, and she wasn’t a runner before, this carries a lot of symbolism for her recovery.’’

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