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Colo. woman is face of hope for people who lose their limbs

A Highlands Ranch woman knows the pain and fear victims of the Boston bomb blasts feel who are suddenly faced with the loss of limbs.

Ilene Brandon, 59, lost both her arm and leg in November 2011.

When she heard about the terrorist tragedy, she immediately wanted to go to Boston to help.

She feels she can offer victims hope.

“It did bring back memories, obviously, of what I went through,” says Brandon.

She feels a connection to the victims.

“Losing a limb is not unlike losing a life, someone you love,” she says.

They lost limbs to a bomb blast. She lost hers to bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria.

“They amputated my leg, then they amputated my right arm,” says Brandon.

She knows the very difficult days ahead for the bombing victims—the grief, the fear, the inability to do what days ago, they gave no thought to doing.

“My arm was gone. You get sick. And the next thing you wake up. Someone tells you you’re missing a limb,” she says.

“Hers resonates with the Boston tragedy. She was in her usual state of health until a few days before this. There was nothing going on with her leg. All of a sudden, it came out of the blue. For all intents, she was struck by lightning, for what this means for her,” says Dr. Matt Godleski, Brandon’s rehabilitation doctor at University of Colorado Hospital.

He says victims mourn the loss of not just their limbs—but of a life they imagined–a life now of catastrophic change and re-learning to do the fundamentals, like walking, bathing and eating.

“There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. People can, with new technology, with what we’re able to do, people can get back to a lot of their life. But it’s a long road, and a lot of work, and a lot of challenges,” he says.

But through Brandon’s loss, she says she’s gained appreciation.

“My life is so blessed since this happened,” says Brandon. She has made so many new friends, felt so much support and now has a desire to go back to school to get her masters in counseling. She’s also playing golf again.

Today, she returns to the same place that helped her heal.

She wants to volunteer at University Hospital’s rehab floor.

Her goal: to give back, to offer insight only an amputee could offer.

“There are going to be so many days of depression, and so many days of anger, and so many days of tiredness. Just get through that day. Eventually, you will come to the other side and you’re normal again. It’s a new normal. But you’re normal,” she says.

Both Brandon’s prosthetics are computerized.

She can move the fingers, bend the wrist and bend her elbow. She can walk downstairs.

The only thing prosthetics can’t do is feel. But scientists are working on technology allowing nerves to communicate with the prosthetic.