In celebration of the 126th Boston Marathon, Brigham Bulletin is highlighting the stories of three members of the Brigham’s Stepping Strong Marathon Team. Comprising 138 runners, the Stepping Strong team will follow the historic Boston Marathon route on April 18 — all in support of The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation at the Brigham.
About Stepping Strong
Established in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings,The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation has evolved from one family’s bold response to a personal tragedy to a thriving, multi-institutional, multidisciplinary hub tackling the continuum of trauma care — from prevention to treatment to rehabilitation. Its mission is to catalyze multidisciplinary collaborations that inspire groundbreaking innovation, effective prevention and compassionate intervention to transform care for civilians and military heroes who endure traumatic injuries and events.
You can advance this critical work by supporting the Stepping Strong Marathon Team. Click here to meet members of the team or make a gift.
Paul Kent, 58, had both of his legs amputated below the knee, but don’t ever tell him he’s suffered limb loss. Quite the contrary, he insists. Becoming a bilateral Ewing amputee gave him everything — most importantly, his life.
Kent stands on a surfboard with his new prosthetics for the first time at York Beach in Maine.
Kent, who goes by PK, developed a genetic peripheral neuropathy in his 30s that, by his late 40s, led to near-constant wounds on his feet. Although he felt no pain, the condition led to life-threatening infections that required frequent hospitalization.
Once an endurance athlete and avid swimmer, Kent found himself struggling to do basic tasks. His health concerns became so grave that the single father of two stopped planning family vacations, unable to even think a few months ahead.
“Every day, I lived with a fear of death because a wound could turn into sepsis. The day of my surgery, Dec. 1, 2020, my life changed for the better — immediately,” Kent said. “I probably wouldn’t be alive today without the Ewing amputation.”
In 2016, a clinical team led by the Brigham’s Matthew J. Carty, MD, a surgeon in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and director of Strategy and Innovation at the Stepping Strong Center, in collaboration with Hugh Herr, PhD, of the Center for Extreme Bionics in the MIT Media Lab, invented a new type of lower-limb amputation procedure, known as the Ewing amputation.
Named after the experimental procedure’s first patient, Jim Ewing, the Ewing amputation preserves normal signaling between the muscles and the brain. Compared to a standard amputation, the Ewing procedure maintains natural linkages between muscles in an amputated leg, so amputees feel as if they are controlling their physiological limb, even though it’s been replaced by a prosthesis.
Once he healed from surgery, Kent was eager to put his new prosthetic limbs to good use.
“When I stood up on a surfboard for the first time this past summer, it told me there are no limits on what I can do,” he said.
Next on his list: running the Boston Marathon, which he will do this year for the first time as a member of both the Brigham’s Stepping Strong team and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s Race for Rehab team.
The Stepping Strong Center’s bold vision for trauma innovation makes it a powerful incubator for ideas that can transform the lives of amputees, Kent said. In particular, he is impressed with the center’s support of early-career investigators and novel projects that may not necessarily garner traditional research funding.
“I like what’s going on at Stepping Strong and the progressiveness of the program,” Kent said. “It incentivizes out-of-the box thinking.”
Kent is also on his own mission to improve the lives of fellow members of the disabled community, having recently launched disABLED Life Alliance, a public benefit corporation whose first initiative is focused on increasing access to prosthetic devices.
Although he knows the marathon is an ambitious challenge, Kent says nothing can stop his momentum.
“I’ve been held back for so long,” he said. “As Dr. Chris Carter over at Spaulding said to me, ‘Your victory is showing up at the starting line.’”