As the medical tent at the Boston Marathon rapidly filled with traumatically injured runners and spectators caught in bomb explosions at the finish line on April 15, James Broadhurst, MD, MHA, provided a calm and reassuring presence.
“I recognized with the first person that I saw that this was an explosion and people were going to be badly hurt. I knew as a family doctor that one of the most important things that I could do was care for another human being,” said Dr. Broadhurst, assistant professor of family medicine & community health.
Amid the controlled chaos in the tent, Broadhurst called on his experience as a family physician and recognized that his role on the medical team was to provide comfort to the patients he saw, to reassure them that they were safe, in good hands and being cared for.
Broadhurst has been volunteering at the marathon for nine years as part of a medical team from the UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial community. Participation is a unique opportunity for students, residents, nurses and doctors to become more skilled at mass casualty events, which the Boston Marathon is, even in years when everything goes according to plan.
“The real heroes in my opinion are the Boston EMS team. They immediately converted the back of the tent to a MASH-type unit where all the patients with serious injuries were brought,” said Broadhurst, associate director of the family medicine residency program, who teaches primary care in the sports medicine fellowship. “Other heroes include the women and men on the dispatch team who had to distribute the injured to area hospitals.” He said the coordination was done “remarkably, wonderfully, beautifully.”
Based on the devastating injuries they saw in the tent, Broadhurst said they were sure that there would be at least five fatalities. The fact that there were three is a testament to the stabilizing care that was provided, he said.
“I took particular pride when I heard on the news Monday evening that staff in the ERs [of the various Boston hospitals] said the patients they received were remarkably stable,” he said. “It is a miracle that only three people died. I know for a fact that they died instantly. As hard as we worked and as much as we wanted to save them, we couldn’t. We did the best we could.”
He is especially grateful for the leadership and comfort that his colleague Christina Hernon, MD, provided for the UMass team. As an emergency medicine physician, Dr. Hernon offered guidance and reminders about the steps that needed to be taken in evaluating patients to physicians who don’t normally find themselves triaging injuries.
“I was a family physician caught up in an extraordinary event,” said Broadhurst. “I am grateful that the emergency docs and ICU nurses and EMS groups were there to take care of the blast wounds.”
Broadhurst realizes that he, as well as everyone else present at the 117th Boston Marathon, is a victim of the bombing and together with his colleagues, he is taking the steps necessary to heal.
“Most of us who have been through this are getting better together,” Broadhurst said. “Most of the folks that I have spent time with in the last week recognize that coming back [next year] will be an honor and will be therapeutic. I expect that the marathon will be bigger than ever. It will be bittersweet, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”