Inspiration in Boston

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By Debbie Gregory.

Amputee J.P. Norden wants to drive again. More than anything, he wants to walk again.

Service members who lost limbs in combat have reached out to Norden to show him he will drive, he will walk, and that he can do anything he sets his mind to.

Norden and his brother Paul were cheering for a friend at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April when a series of bombs exploded. Each brother lost a leg in the second blast. Shortly after, wounded warrior amputees from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center traveled to Boston to inspire Norden and the other victims.

“We worked out with them and pushed them,” said Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills. “We told them, ‘Hey man, there’s life after amputation.'”

This week J.P. and his surgeon, Dr. E.J. Caterson, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston – visited Walter Reed to meet with patients and learn the latest medical and surgical advances for military members who received similar blast wounds on the battlefield.

“Walter Reed has the most experience with amputees,” Caterson said. “[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.

Caterson said he hoped the wounded warriors would be an inspiration to J.P.

“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.

During the visit, the wounded warriors were quick to inspire. 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, was overwhelmed by the support and dedication of the wounded warriors as they pushed themselves during 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.”