3 Keys to Triumphing Over Tragedy

How Heather Abbott went from ordinary to extraordinary in the face of adversity

Boston, marathon, Heather Abbott,When the absolute best comes from the worst ...

“The explosion was 10 feet away and blew me into the doorway of a restaurant.”

So began Heather Abbott’s description of the events of “Marathon Monday,” April 15, 2013. Coming from a Red Sox game to watch the Boston Marathon runners cross the finish line, an annual tradition for the 38-year-old human resources executive and her friends, tragedy struck within seconds of their arrival.

“My leg felt like it was on fire. I began to yell for help when Erin Chatham, wife of former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham, called to her husband,” she told attendees of The 2017 New England Wealth & Retirement Conference in Foxborough, Massachusetts, during a dinnertime presentation.

Carried to the back of the establishment by the NFL alum, the heel of her left foot had been blown off. An ambulance soon arrived and she was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, but after multiple procedures, the decision was made to amputate her left leg below the knee.

“Wearing high-heels has always been painful, but now it’s only in one foot,” she said to laughter.

Her presentation opened with news reports of the terrorist act, interviews with Abbott by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and others, as well as then-President Obama’s comments in the immediate aftermath.

The discussion was made especially poignant by Prudential’s Lisa Buffington, who joined Abbott on stage. Having a close relative who recently underwent an amputation, Buffington asked about what family members should (and should not) do to aid in recovery.

“Treat them like you always have, and let them do things,” Abbot responded, noting that overly cautious loved-ones can do more harm than good.

Abbott, who launched the Heather Abbott Foundation to raise money for prosthetics and medical care for people who have lost limbs, then detailed the keys to success and perseverance that were instrumental in her recovery.

1). Acceptance—Recognize what you cannot change, and avoid the “what ifs” and “why me.” Those questions will never be answered, and will only hold people back.

2). Aid—”Allow yourself to rely on others,” she said. Recipients of aid from the Semper Fi Fund—which provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 combat wounded—flew to her bedside in her hospital room. While she was incredibly grateful to see other amputees, and know that she would be okay, she noted they were all men. A visit from Real Housewives of New York’s Aviva Drescher, herself an amputee due to a childhood accident, in her “skinny jeans and high heels,” convinced Abbott that she would also look okay.

3). Assist—Abbott’s mission is to “pay it forward.” Acknowledging that it sounds strange to be a lucky amputee, “my injury was high profile. Too many people have car accidents, motorcycle accidents, cancer, and can’t afford prosthetics,” as insurance doesn’t pay the roughly $70,000 needed for an advanced prosthetic limb, which is the reason for her fund.

More information for those wishing to donate can be found at www.heatherabbottfoundation.org.

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