By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The 14 Boston marathon victims who lost a limb after the bombings last week have a long, challenging road ahead of them. Although they were lucky enough to survive, they’ll have to endure years of therapy to relearn how to stand and walk.
Local runner Kevin Degnan said his experience was not as traumatic as the Boston victims’ — but as an amputee, he knows what they are going through.
Degnan, of Kenmore, was hit by a car in 1986 while he was on the Canisius College track team, and his lower left leg was damaged severely from the accident. Over the years, Degnan underwent 14 different surgeries and he was constantly fighting infection.
“I had continuous degenerate problems in my leg, and eventually, in 2010, my doctors and I decided we had to remove it,” he said. “It was definitely the hardest decision of my life.”
But despite the emotional experience of losing his leg, Degnan woke up from surgery determined to run again.
“I didn’t listen to any limitations. Sometimes, you just have to experiment yourself,” he said.
After Degnan was released from Erie County Medical Center, he was transferred to the subacute facility on the Kenmore Mercy campus, and then became an outpatient at Catholic Health’s Athleticare.
With the help of Athleticare’s manager and physical therapist, Joe Baumgarden, Degnan slowly began to stand and walk with the help of his prosthetic leg.
“Sometimes, it can feel like you are moving backwards, but you are strengthening with that, too,” he said. “One day, you’re able to put on the leg and stand — even if it’s only for a second. A few days later, you can take a few steps.”
Three months after his surgery, Degnan was running again. Three months later, he ran in a 5k race — and he’s ran in seven more since then.
His road to recovery isn’t over though — Degnan still goes to Athleticare biweekly for various injuries and therapy. But, despite all the challenges, he said that he has faith that the Boston marathon victims, with a positive attitude, will overcome the many hurdles presented to them.
“My heart does bleed for them. I know they have a lot of work ahead of them, but they can do it,” he said. “If I could talk to them, I’d tell them to keep in perspective what they still have. Because that is the greatest gift.”
Baumgarden, Degnan’s therapist, has worked with over 50 amputees and stressed that every one of those patients’ journeys is different.
“The biggest physical challenge is to trust that the leg is going to respond, that the balance is going to be recovered,” he said. “That first year has a lot of challenges, and a lot of people get discouraged.”
But Baumgarden also said that it’s very feasible that with a prosthetic, amputee patients can be walking within two to three months.
And although that process is extremely difficult, Baumgarden and Degnan said a patient’s support system can make a big difference.
“I’d tell the families of the victims in Boston to encourage them. If they are down, try to lift them up in any way possible,” Baumgarden said.
After his surgery, Degnan founded an amputee support group for locals called Moving Forward. The group meets monthly to discuss various challenges and experiences.
“We are just there to tell people we are there for them,” Degnan said. “And even if we don’t talk, we listen.”Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150