Walter Reed Bethesda staff member recalls Boston tragedy
April 29, 2013
Army Capt. (Dr.) Chelsea Brundage ran her 32nd marathon last week, the Boston Marathon. The senior resident in Walter Reed Bethesda's Physical Medicine and Readiness department aspired to run the event for years and finally qualified for this year.
"It was one of my lifelong dreams," she said.
To qualify for the Boston Marathon, Brundage trained vigorously, running several miles a day, several days a week. She finished the 26.2 mile course, which she described as "hilly," in about 3 hours, 55 minutes. Though she had her heart set on a faster time, her biggest regret was not being able to help the victims injured by two explosions that went off near the finish line -- about 10 minutes after she completed the race.
"It was a surreal feeling. This is what we do, this is what we are trained to do as Army doctors," Brundage said, who has been on active duty six years and deployed to Afghanistan. "We train to respond to blasts. We train to stabilize traumatized patients."
During the Boston Marathon on April 15, pandemonium erupted when two explosions detonated near the finish line, killing three people and injuring roughly 200 others. Meanwhile, thousands from around the world were in town, to run or watch.
Brundage had just joined her husband, Jacob, and was getting her race blanket, some food and fluids, when she heard the first blast. She was about 200 yards away.
"It sounded like a cannon," she said. "The first blast was much louder than the second. Being Patriots Day, I'm thinking, this cool, historic city is doing something in that regard."
Others around her seemed to believe it was the same scenario, at first. She soon noticed people around her crying uncontrollably. She said she asked someone, who was clearly distraught, what happened. "They said those were bombs that went off," she said. "My heart sunk."
By that time, Brundage was about a mile from the scene, and there was no getting through the massive line of people on either side of the finish line to try and use her skills. At Walter Reed Bethesda, she treats amputees, as well as traumatic brain injury patients. She provides care for spinal cord and musculoskeletal injuries, as well as chronic pain.
"I would've run back in a heartbeat to help," she said. She explained the crowd was too large, and not moving. "By then, I knew there were people taking care of them."
First responders and civilians close by did not hesitate to react, she said, putting bandages and tourniquets on the victims, pulling bleachers off people, and whisking people away on wheelchairs and stretchers.
"I don't quite understand why things happen, but the best of America seems to come together amidst tragedy," she said.
While she wishes she was closer to have helped, Brundage added, "I'm grateful I was not close enough to be injured."
She went on to note the efforts of the first responders, Army reservists and civilians, who were so quick to react. Many injuries could have been worse had it not been for their quick coordination of care, Brundage said.
Brundage added she plans to run for the victims and responders in the next Boston Marathon. "I'm planning to run next year, and running my heart out," she said, adding, "My thoughts and prayers are certainly with those family members and individuals."
Dr. Paul Pasquina, chairman of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Walter Reed Bethesda and the Uniformed Services University, also offered condolences to the victims and their families.
The retired Army colonel noted those who were injured will undoubtedly face challenges over the course of what will likely be a protracted recovery, and they will require an integrated approach to their care, involving physical and emotional treatment. Thanks to advancements in medicine and technology, though, odds are they will one day come out on top of their injuries, he said.
Pasquina explained service members and civilians who have been injured overseas from blast injuries, have not only survived, but have gone on to thrive.
"We can get great hope and inspiration from them as well," he said. "Today, we have prosthetic components that weren't available 10 years ago. We have advances in socket technology, computer-based prosthetic components, as well as motorized lower limb prosthetics," he said. These developments offer "great encouragement for all individuals with limb loss or disability. They can lead much more fulfilling lives, and live a very high quality of life," he added.
Fortunately, much of the knowledge gained from the military during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has already been distributed throughout the medical community, he said. While the military seems to lead in treating blast wounds, Pasquina attributes significant advancements in care to the collaboration between the military, academia, and the VA, as well as the civilian community. According to Pasquina, many military providers participate in national educational programs and serve on national committees. Additionally, civilian trauma centers across the nation, including those in Boston, have staff members who have been trained by the military, he said.
"We hope that the advancements in the last decade will continue to help not just service members, but civilians, and in this case, those casualties from Boston," Pasquina said. "There's no question, events like this bring us all closer together, whether it be as a society or in the medical community."