Six weeks before, on April 15, she had joined the throng of spectators at the Boston Marathon. She’d treated herself to hot chocolate and a pancake at a cafe before heading alone to the finish line to cheer runners at the end of America’s most famous race.
“This is where I was,” she said, her wheelchair gliding to a stop outside the Marathon Sports store.
It was on this spot that everything changed — where twin pressure cooker bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others, including at least 16 people who lost a limb or limbs. It was on this spot where the world came to regard Daniel, a 31-year-old medical school graduate and Haitian immigrant, as a victim.
“Please save my legs,” she had begged the doctors before blacking out in the operating room.
But they amputated her left leg above her knee before she woke up. It was the price she paid for her life. Her heart had stopped twice after she lost consciousness.
The kind of determination she would show in the aftermath of the bombing was not new.
She had emigrated from Haiti just before turning 17, graduating from Brockton High School before attending University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She headed to Europe for medical school after college, doing some traveling when she wasn’t studying.
Before the marathon, the international medical graduate had been studying for the last part of her medical boards so she could qualify to work as a doctor in the United States. She’d been thinking about pursuing psychiatry as her specialty.
But now, she turned all that energy to her recovery.
After leaving Massachusetts General, Daniel spent about three weeks at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where she exercised for three hours a day.
But when the time came to leave, she couldn’t go home.
Before the marathon, Daniel had lived in a second-story apartment with her husband, Richardson, their 5-year-old daughter, and her husband’s parents in Boston’s Mattapan section. But the location wouldn’t work with a wheelchair, forcing Daniel and her husband to move to a hotel near Spaulding for a while.
Without a permanent home, Daniel worked to transition from using a wheelchair to crutches, refusing to use a walker to smooth the way from one to the other. Going down stairs was especially tricky. Daniel craved mobility and she wanted her family back together, and neither could come soon enough.
The bionic woman
“Talk to me and breathe. I need you to breathe, OK?” “I’m breathing.” “OK, good.” Prosthetist Paul Martino was trying to keep Daniel comfortable. It was early June and the time had come for her to stand on her own again.
Inside United Prosthetics in the city’s Dorchester section, Martino helped her slide into the kind of socket that would encase the top of her left leg and connect to a replacement knee and foot to form her first artificial limb.
The fit was awkward at first and Daniel cringed with pain. She hadn’t put any weight on her injured limb until then. “Could I walk funny? I feel funny,” she said. Prosthetist Julianne Mason helped tweak the fit so Daniel could try some practice steps in a narrow hallway with support bars on both walls. When Martino closed a door, Daniel saw her new reflection in a mirror. “That’s you, standing up,” he said. “Hmmm,” she said softly. “The bionic woman.”
The day after Daniel’s first steps, children who rode the Weymouth school bus her father drove took part in a walkathon on her behalf that raised $8,275.
Daniel’s custom-made prosthetic leg wasn’t ready yet and she hadn’t brought her crutches to the event. But she borrowed a pair and rose from her wheelchair that morning to lead hundreds of students for the first quarter-mile of their walk.
“Mery strong!” they shouted, pumping their small fists in the air.
Just another Bostonian
By the time autumn arrived, Daniel was leaving her crutches behind when she left her apartment.
She was venturing into Boston by herself in taxis and even considering riding mass transit again as the six-month anniversary of the bombings grew near. She also had participated in road races, riding a handcycle powered with her arms.
The prosthetists made another plaster cast of what remained of her left leg to make a second custom socket. Then they adjusted the microprocessor in her artificial knee to loosen her stride. Daniel even picked out a cosmetic cover for the metallic parts of her prosthetic that was designed to match her complexion.
On that day, Daniel decided to stop for something to eat before she headed home. Her ride dropped her off near her apartment, and she walked a block to a South End cafe she’d come to like.
Then Daniel snagged a table out on the sidewalk, where she dined by herself as she took in the view, just another Bostonian enjoying a fine September afternoon.
By BRIDGET MURPHY Associated Press