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The family of a teenager who almost lost a leg in the Boston Marathon bombings has started a fund to explore limb regeneration and the use of stem cells to regrow bones and skin.
Gillian Reny's parents started the fund with an undisclosed sum and have formed a team for this year's marathon to raise more. The goal is $3 million to fund research intended to help others at risk of amputation.
Reny, as well her parents Audrey Epstein Reny and Steven Reny, haven't spoken publicly about their ordeal, but are coming forward now in interviews with The Boston Globe and WCVB-TV to talk about the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Fund.
Both of Reny's legs were injured in the April blast, and doctors were not sure they could save her mangled lower right leg.
"I knew from seeing the destruction of my legs that something very serious had happened," Reny said.
Reny was standing near the finish line with her parents to watch her sister complete the race when twin bombs detonated, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others.
Reny, now a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, is still rehabilitating but is able to walk on her own after undergoing several surgeries.
Initially, doctors did not know if Reny's leg could be saved, said plastic surgeon Dr. Eric Halvorson.
But Halvorson found that a vital nerve was undamaged, and tests showed that major blood vessels were largely intact. Reny spent several weeks at Brigham & Women's Hospital and within two months recovered enough to attend her graduation from Buckingham Brown & Nichols School on crutches.
"It was awesome to be able to be with my friends and my class," she said.
By August she had started walking on her own, although her rehabilitation is ongoing and she may need more surgery.
Her goal is to start dancing again.
"I feel like a normal college freshman," she said, "which is all I ever wanted."