It was a surreal moment for retired U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Korona when he crossed the finish line of the Falmouth Road Race with two fellow amputees, Tammy Jerome and Rebecca Mann, earlier this month. All three are among the first patients to undergo a novel surgical amputation to repair injuries to their legs and relieve chronic pain they had experienced for years.
While they each had different reasons for having the first-of-its-kind procedure, known as the Ewing amputation, the trio has bonded over their shared experience. Korona said completing the seven-mile race alongside Jerome and Mann meant a lot to them all.
“We started as a team and finished as a team,” Korona said. “This was the pinnacle event since my surgery, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish. Together, the three of us motivated each other the entire way.”
On Aug. 19, Jerome, Korona and Mann participated in the 46th annual New Balance Falmouth Road Race in Cape Cod with 35 other runners in support of BWH, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital and The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation. To date, the team has raised close to $28,000 to transform the future of medicine for patients and their families at the Brigham and around the world.
Taking the Next Step
First performed on Brigham patient Jim Ewing in 2016, with support from the Stepping Strong Center, the Ewing amputation is an experimental procedure that redefines the way a traditional amputation is done. If successful, this dynamic-model amputation will enable patients to perform complex actions and feel sensation by using building blocks in the body to allow their brain to interact with a robotic prosthetic developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Currently using traditional prosthetics, Jerome, Korona and Mann wanted to participate in the Falmouth Road Race together to give back to the hospital that gave each of them a life-changing opportunity.
For Mann, finishing the race showed her how far she’s come personally since her surgery last October. A retired chief warrant officer two in the U.S. Army, Mann said it feels good to participate in activities she loves, including walking and hiking.
“Nine months ago, I could barely walk because the pain in my foot was so bad,” Mann said. She had suffered a non-combat injury to her foot in 2014, and, up until her surgery, struggled with chronic pain as a result. “Thanks to the Brigham and Stepping Strong, I’ve been given the gift of my life back. This hospital will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Last August, Jerome underwent the Ewing amputation after suffering with chronic pain and infections in her left ankle for six years. Within four months of beginning to walk on a prosthetic, she began indoor and outdoor rock climbing, and she has completed four races, including the Boston Athletic Association’s 5K race with the Stepping Strong team. She said participating in the Falmouth Road Race was another way she could show others that amputation is not an end.
“For so many years, I have been held back from being able to be active with my family. Now, I may succeed at something or I may not, but I have been given the ability to try,” Jerome said. “This would not have been possible without the collaboration of BWH, Stepping Strong, MIT and my incredible medical team. I am grateful beyond words.”
Korona agreed, adding that completing the Falmouth Road Race, his first post-surgery race, is just the beginning of achieving bigger goals.
“Completing Falmouth told me I could do more now, and the goal is to push myself further than I have ever gone before because I’ve been given the gift of my life back,” said Korona, who aspires to participate in the 2020 Boston Marathon.