Mark Cronin, 41, lost his lower left leg after he was hit by an alleged drunken driver in August. Now the construction worker, who is married with three children, is learning to walk with a prosthesis as he begins to rebuild his life.
Headlights coming at him. Being pulled by his shoulders to get him out of harm’s way. A cool wave rushing underneath him. Crying out, “Save my leg, save my leg.”
The memories still give Mark Cronin nightmares. And, from time to time, depression.
Just after midnight on Aug. 23, the Quincy construction worker was heading home on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, crossing the Neponset River Bridge. When he reached the crest, he saw a Honda Civic headed toward him in the wrong lane.
Police say the Honda’s driver, Quincy resident and Boston Juvenile Court probation officer Mary Beth Frisoli, was drunk when she hit Cronin.
The impact threw him into the air, severed his left leg below the knee and and left him lying on the pavement, his pelvis fractured, his left wrist shattered and his right ankle broken. An Iraq war veteran driving by stopped to tie a tourniquet around his left leg, saving his life.
For Cronin, the extent of his injury hit home the next night at Boston Medical Center. Unable to speak due to a breathing tube, he kept looking down toward his legs, putting up first one then two fingers, asking how many legs were there. Finally, his wife, Carolyn, had to tell him. The left leg was mostly gone; it had been surgically amputated above the knee.
That night, alone with two nurses, he broke down.
“I cried and then I said, ‘That’s it. There’s no more tears for this leg. I have to move on and take care of my family.’”
And so he has. Six months later, Cronin is making rapid progress in his recovery, learning to use a prosthesis at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital, and learning to walk again. He’s usually upbeat, energetic and focused on each day’s new challenge.
He’s also forgiving, saying of the woman who police say hit him: “She made a mistake. She’s probably not an evil person. What happened turned my life upside down, and I’m sure her family was turned upside down.
“My concentration is on myself and my leg, and getting my family back together.”
His disability has meant he cannot live with his wife and their children, Mary Kate, 11, Colleen, 7, and Aiden, 5. He must still use a wheelchair and is living temporarily with his parents, Michael and Margaret Cronin, in Quincy, a few blocks from his family. His parents’ house was quickly made handicapped-accessible, and a crew of about 20 friends is helping him renovate another house in Weymouth, to make it so he can live there.
Tall, with a strong upper body, Cronin is determined to return to his construction job, to again play soccer with his kids, and to help his wife cook a family dinner. The two have known each other since grade school.
“Mark was always an on-the-go guy, impatient to do the next thing,” Carolyn Cronin said.
When Mark was fitted for a prosthesis seven weeks ago, he says, “I thought I’d get a leg on and be off and running. It’s not that fast, but you know that you are going to be able to do it.”
His wife has been amazed by his rapid progress – as has his medical team, which works with him twice a week at the rehab hospital in physical therapy.
“It’s a long process to get to where we are today, but it’s great to see him standing,” Carolyn said. “It’s wonderful.”
Another struggle was convincing his insurance company that he needed a C-Leg, a microprocessor-controlled prosthesis that cost more than $50,000.
“The insurance companies want to give you the minimum – a broomstick that doesn’t allow you to do what you want to do,” he said. “I want to be able to do everything with my kids that I did before.”
Adds John Griffin, the hospital’s head of orthopedic rehab systems: “The insurance companies try to blow it off as being experimental, but it is proven technology.”
Cronin agreed to tell his story to help others with similar injuries.
“I want others to be able to have the opportunity to have this leg,” he said.
“My goal is to get back to work. That’s what this C-leg will allow me to do. “
Patriot Ledger writer Sue Scheible may be reached at email@example.com.
Learning to use his new leg
Mark Cronin is working with Mary Beth MacLean, his physical therapist at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital, to learn how to use his new prosthesis.
Watch a video of Cronin at the hospital
“Mark is is doing excellent, given that he had not just the amputation, but also the other injuries to his right ankle, hips and wrist,” MacLean said.
“He is young, very motivated and had a very active lifestyle before. He is driven because he wants to keep up with his kids. Everything we give him to do, he goes home and does.”
The four main tasks involved in his rehabilitation are:
Fit: Figuring out how to put on and adjust the prosthesis.
Strength: Strengthening not just the leg, but the abdomen and lower back for stability.
Balance: Learning where his new midline, or center of gravity is, and how the prosthetic foot will react when he is thrown off balance.
Gait: Working on getting up and walking, and having a smooth stride.