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Boston Marathon bombing amputees do book signing at Next Step Bionics

Staff Report
June 13. 2014 7:43PM
Boston Marathon bombing victims Paul, right, and J.P. Norden talk with the Mead family of Manchester, including, Michael, Kelliann and Carter, 8, during a book-signing event at Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics on Friday. Their book, "Twice as Strong" was released April 1. The Norden brothers and Carter are all clients of Next Step. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — It’s tough to become famous for losing your legs. Jeff Bauman is famous because of the iconic photo of him being rushed from the scene of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing with his legs blown off by the first backpack bomb.

Not so famous are J.P. and Paul Norden, brothers from Stoneham, Mass., who each lost their right leg when the second bomb went off 12 seconds after the first.

But they are getting better known as the result of their book: “Twice as Strong.”

The brothers were in Manchester Friday for a book signing at Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics, 155 Dow St., the company that provided their new legs and prostheses for five more of the 16 people who endured amputations as a result of the bombing.

Paul Norden, 32, said it might have been easier to accept if they themselves had been responsible for their loss, if they’d done something stupid.

But 14 months after the marathon, with the knowledge their lives are irrevocably changed, they can accept life as it is. “Things happen in life,” said Paul. “I’m blessed to be alive.” J.P., 34, said simply: “It is what it is.”

Both men face a lifetime of having to periodically replace their prostheses, which makes them fear the $1.2 million each received from One Fund Boston won’t cover them all. And there are other medical issues resulting from the bombing.

The most visible injuries the brothers received were the leg amputations, but they sustained others: shrapnel wounds and shattered eardrums. There were dozens of surgeries. Tissue problems complicated fittings.

“I had to learn to be patient. To depend on others,” said J.B., making it sound much easier than it was. “I didn’t have a leg for 10 months,” he said, because of other medical issues.

Thanks to writer David Smitherman, who reached out to the brothers and did the interviews with them and 10 other people who were and are vital to their survival and recovery — including family members, the EMTs and paramedics, J.P. said they learned a lot from their own book. “It told our whole story. It was stuff we didn’t know,” he said, about what people saw, felt and continue to process.

The Nordens feel very strongly about helping other amputees. “We get to do what the military did for us,” said Paul. “We can give back.”

One of the people they helped was at the book signing. North Andover, Mass., resident Tommy Cox, 11, lost his left leg and sustained three breaks to his right leg in a boating accident on Paugus Bay, near the family’s New Hampshire vacation home, Sept. 5, 2013.

He met the brothers at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. “They inspired me,” said Cox, who got his prosthetic leg a month and a half ago. He has a walker, in part because he’s still struggling with the result of his right leg injuries.

But he was back in school in January. He’s already been back on the water in a boat, but he’s really looking forward to swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee this summer.

He’s also thinking about future prosthetic legs that will enable him to run and participate in sports.

Paul Norden is also looking forward to running, he said. “The goal now is to play basketball,” he said, “I can’t run yet, but my goal is by August.”

Paul, who used to be a roofer, said the brothers also plan to eventually start a sheet rocking business — Norden Brothers — which he says is work they will be able to do. “We’re just trying to get back to normal,” he said.

That’s the ultimate goal, although they aren’t there yet. Sometimes people forget they aren’t there yet, and that’s not so bad. J.B. said they were out walking not long ago with their top cheerleader, their mother, Liz, when she apparently forgot and said: “Paul, hurry up.”

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