Adrianne Haslet-Davis and her husband, Adam Davis, were both severely injured at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Haslet-Davis, a professional dancer, lost her left foot and part of her left leg, while her husband endured a cut nerve and artery in his left foot. He also had to have a skin graft in order to repair his right leg, which was damaged by shrapnel.
Their lives were rocked by their injuries, but Haslet-Davis and her husband never lost their enthusiasm or determination to get better. In particular, Haslet-Davis, who has taught 20 different types of dance at Boston’s Arthur Murray Dance Studio, was committed to returning to the stage.
Hugh Herr, director of biomechatronics at the MIT media lab first met Haslet-Davis while they were both at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Biomechatronics integrates the study of biology, mechanics and electronics. After hearing her story, Herr was inspired to create a prosthetic leg for Haslet-Davis, and hired a team of able researchers specializing in a range of disciplines.
Experts in prosthetics, robotics, biomechanics and dance worked for 200 days to create Haslet-Davis’ customized prosthetic, gathering information on how a dancer moves and what forces are applied. All of the information they obtained factored into the final product, which Haslet-Davis debuted during her performance at a TED Conference in Vancouver, B.C.
Herr — a double amputee as a result of a rock climbing accident in 1982 — impressed upon his Vancouver audience just how revolutionary Haslet-Davis’ customized bionic limb is and what it means for the future of biomechatronics.
“Bionics is not only about making people stronger and faster,” he said. “Our expression, our humanity, can be embedded into electromechanics.”
Herr also recognized how much the creation of a customized prosthetic limb has meant to Haslet-Davis.
“Adrianne breathes and lives dance,” he said. “It is her expression, it is her art form.”
Haslet-Davis’ love for dance was clear from her performance. She completed a short rumba with dancer Christian Lightner, after which she embraced Herr and wiped a tear from her eye. Her excitement and gratitude was also expressed in a statement.
“It was invigorating to dance publicly with my new leg, but also to realize that my return to dance may have the power to inspire other people to reach for their goals and be proactive in their lives,” she said, adding, “I was always determined to dance again, and here I am.”
Haslet-Davis has also been invited to appear on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” sometime during the next season.
Reporters and scientists alike are impressed that Haslet-Davis’s recovery happened within a year of the Boston Marathon bombings, and it is even more poignant that her debut with the new prosthetic occurred within a month of the terrorist attack.
“My first dance happening to be so near the anniversary of the marathon bombing stands as a reminder that I’m a survivor, not a victim,” she said in at http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2014/03/19/marathon-bombing-victim-adrianne-haslet-davis-dances-onstage-ted-talk/N7P3EF3zmrGXtE9brkndxN/story.html”>Boston Globe Interview.
Herr echoed this sentiment near the end of his speech at the TED conference.
“We will not be intimidated, brought down, diminished, conquered, or stopped by acts of violence,” he said, speaking on behalf of the MIT research team, but also, on a larger scale, every resident of Boston and beyond that has reached out to help the victims of the Marathon bombings.
The 2014 Boston Marathon will take place on Monday, April 21. The rest of Herr’s speech and Haslet-Davis’s performance can be seen here: