She nearly lost her leg in the Boston bombing, then raised millions for research

Five years ago this Sunday, Gillian Reny was an 18-year-old high school senior standing with her parents at the Boston Marathon waiting for her sister to cross the finish line.

Then the bombs went off, killing three people and injuring hundreds, including Reny.

The blasts sent shrapnel tearing into her right leg, and she was rushed to Brigham and Women's Hospital, where doctors and nurses fought to save the limb. They used tissue from her abdomen to keep blood flowing to her leg, and they used a stabilizing rod to hold the bone in place.

It was far from a sure thing at first, but as the months passed, it became clear that they could keep her leg intact.

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Boston Marathon bombing 5th anniversary
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Boston Marathon bombing 5th anniversary
A man and two children pause at a memorial to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings at the site of the first explosion on the 5th anniversary of the blasts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman (L) attends a ceremony at the site of the first explosion on the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (L) accompanies Patty Campbell (2nd L), the mother of Boston Marathon bombing victim Krystle Campbell, during a ceremony at the site of the first explosion on the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Christopher Nzenwa wipes his eyes after praying over a memorial to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings at the site of the first explosion on the 5th anniversary of the blasts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Boston Marathon bombing witness Carlos Arredondo holds a "Boston Strong" banner after blessing the runners during services at Old South Church on the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Runners, including one wearing a shirt for Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard, stand to be blessed during a service at Old South Church on the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
A runner wipes her eye during prayers for the Boston Marathon bombing victims at a service at Old South Church on the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Boston Marathon bombing witness Carlos Arredondo blesses the runners during a service at Old South Church on the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) comforts Patty Campbell (2nd R), the mother of Boston Marathon bombing victim Krystle Campbell, during a ceremony at the site of the first explosion on the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A runner kneels at the site of the bombing and prays on April 15, 2018, the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Patricia Campbell, mother of Krystle Campbell, (L) walks away after laying a wreath at the site of one of the bombings in honor of her late daughter and the others killed in the 2013 marathon bombing on April 15, 2018, the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Joyce Lee, of Fremont, California had goosebumps as she visited the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, MA on April 15, 2018. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A runner sports a tattoo of Forrest Gump beside a list of marathons as he stands at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, MA on April 15, 2018. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Carlos Arredondo walks down the aisle carrying a Boston Strong flag during a special The Blessing of the Athletes service at the Old South Church on April 15, 2018, the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Boston Marathon bombing rescuer Carlos Arredondo is greeted by Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Boston Red Sox after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles on April 15, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Boston Marathon bombing rescuer Carlos Arredondo throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles on April 15, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Members of the Boston Red Sox observe a moment of silence in recognition of the Boston Marathon bombings during the seventh inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles on April 15, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
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Grateful as she began to recover, Reny and her family asked how they could thank the doctors.

Their answer was to establish the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Fund, which has raised more than $11 million since 2014 to support trauma research. That research got a physical home last year when the Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation opened at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"We wanted to do something to show our gratitude to the hospital and the doctors," Reny, now 23, said in a recent interview. "How could we possibly thank them for all that they had done for us and our family?"

The fund has given nearly $1 million in grants so far, including $100,000 to Matthew J. Carty, a reconstructive plastic surgeon. Carty, who is working in conjunction with MIT, is looking to improve the way amputations are done, so surgery patients are left with a "smarter stump" that is capable of greater sensory feedback, which would improve feeling and movement.

"We're trying to develop a system-based approach to taking care of people with limb loss," said Carty, who has treated Reny.

Other doctors who have received grants are searching for new ways to heal wounds and exploring how stem cells could help regrow bone, according to the hospital.

Reny, who studied the sociology of health and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and now lives in New York City, working as an assistant buyer for Bloomingdale's, is encouraged to see how the research funded by the center is beginning to help people.

Still, the anniversary of the bombing each April 15 can be difficult. She plans to spend the day with her family, after running in the Boston Athletic Association's annual 5K on Saturday. And on Monday, she'll be cheering on Brigham and Women's Hospital's Stepping Strong Boston Marathon Team.

"This time of year can be a little more challenging than other times," Reny said. "My family has done a really good job of turning what happened, and all of the anniversaries, into something positive."

Where survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing are today:

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Where survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing are today
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Where survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing are today
BOSTON, MA - JULY 4: Ritajayne Rivera wears American themed sneakers with the date of the Boston Marathon bombing written on them before the start of the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular in Boston on Jul. 4, 2017. Rivera was near the first bomb during marathon. (Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 16: Marc Fucarile and Patrick Downes, Boston Marathon bombing survivors and members of the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, are introduced during a ceremony before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays on April 16, 2017 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman talks with Amy Purdy after his lap in the IndyCar two seater at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, MA - MARCH 26: Jessica Kensky and her service dog Rescue at their home in Cambridge, Mass., March 26, 2018. Jessica and her husband Patrick Downes were injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing. Her dog, Rescue, changed her life and she has written a children's book 'Rescue & Jessica' based on her experiences with losing her legs. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 28: Actor Jake Gyllenhaal (L) and writer Jeff Bauman (R), victim of Boston marathon bombing 2013 attend the red carpet of the movie 'Stronger' during 12th Film Fest of Rome at Auditorium Parco Della Musica in Rome, Italy on October 28, 2017. (Photo by Primo Barol/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Boston Marathon bombing survivors Patrick Downes, left, and Jessica Kensky pose for photos with Kensky's service dog Rescue at the 2017 ASPCA Humane Awards in New York City on Nov. 16, 2017. Rescue was named the ASPCA's Dog of the Year. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Meb Keflezighi, of the United States, 2014 winner of the Boston Marathon, kisses the hand of Bill Richard, who lost his son, Martin, in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, after Keflezighi finished the 121st Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 15: Lynn Crisci, survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, poses for a portrait in Boston on Mar. 15, 2017. People who suffered PTSD from the Boston Marathon bombings say they have never been fully recognized as survivors of the terrorist attacks. As the fourth anniversary of the bombing nears, survivors who did not receive compensation from the One Fund say they feel marginalized. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 22: Adrianne Haslet-Davis, Boston Marathon bombing survivor, is honored wearing her 2016 Boston Marathon completion medal during the second quarter of Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 1: David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox greets Boston Marathon bombing survivors during a ceremony honoring his accomplishments off the field on October 1, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
NEWTON, MA - APRIL 18: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Patrick Downes, center, runs along Commonwealth Avenue near 'Heartbreak Hill' in Newton, Mass., during the 120th Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016. (Photo by Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 17: The family of the late Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy who was killed three years ago in the Boston Marathon bombings, acknowledges the crowd as they are introduced to the crowd while standing on top of the Boston Red Sox dugout between innings of a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park in Boston on April 17, 2016. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 21: Rebekah Gregory, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor throws out the first pitch at Minute Maid Park on July 21, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
NORTH ANDOVER, MA - MAY 28: Air National Guard Lt. Col. John Klatt invited Boston Marathon bombing survivors, Celeste Corcoran, from Lowell, and her daughter Sydney, 20, to fly in formation over the Merrimack Valley. Klatt is one of the top performing aerobatic pilots in the country. He will be performing with his fellow stunt-pilots of the John Klatt Airshows this Saturday and Sunday along with the Blue Angels at the Quonset Air Show in Rhode Island where the Corcorans will be his VIP guests. Celeste flew in the front seat of Klatt's plane while it does a roll, while Sydney was in the front seat of pilot Dell Coller's (red) plane. The other plane was piloted by Jeff Boerboon. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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