The senseless attack at the Boston Marathon turned a day of triumph into a day of horror. Two bombs, which left three dead and more than 144 injured, rocked the city of Boston and impacted communities across the country. For the ATSU community, an alumnus and a faculty member, both of whom participated in the event, recall their experiences that tragic day.
“Get everyone out that can go! We’re going to have mass casualties!” yelled Martin S. Levine, DO, ’80, MPH, ’03, FACOFP, immediately after the first bomb exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line.
Dr. Levine, a former marathon runner and 19-year volunteer finish line physician, was standing one block away when he heard the blast. Without thinking, he raced toward the rising plume of smoke. Suddenly, the second bomb went off. In the back of his mind, he wondered, “What are the chances of a third bomb?” Relentlessly, he kept running.
Dr. Levine came upon a horrific, war-like scene: blood and debris covering the street and sidewalk, people in shock, dozens lying in heaps with their legs severed, wounded, or deformed. He quickly took action.
The victims had lower extremity injuries from the back, and Dr. Levine knew they were in danger of extreme blood loss. He scrambled to find anything he could use as tourniquets.
“We asked people for their belts,” recalls Dr. Levine. “We took off the lanyards we used for credentials and tied them around people’s legs. It was unbelievably horrendous.”
Within minutes, waves of medical personnel arrived with clean bandages, backboards, gurneys, and wheelchairs. A triage began, with the most serious loaded onto stretchers and carried to waiting ambulances and EMS stations. Dr. Levine stayed on site until most of the seriously wounded victims were moved, finally helping transport a woman to an ambulance.
Although no one could have anticipated such a traumatic event, the medical staff was prepared. Last year, the team treated 2,300 people, most of whom were ill from the heat. While this year’s marathon was much different, the staff’s readiness and attentiveness helped save many lives.
“We were capable of taking many more victims, no matter how severe,” says Dr. Levine, who spoke at the 11th Annual Anti-Terrorism Symposium in New York City after the bombings. “We knew what was available and how to get it to the injured. I believe we saved some limbs and perhaps even some lives.”
Staying true to his motto of “thinking osteopathically” and giving back, he plans to teach an anti-terrorism class at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine where he is an associate dean and professor of family medicine. In an effort to take a stand against this kind of violence, the class will focus on trying to stop terrorism and being prepared to help in the worst-case scenario.
It was a close call. Whether coincidence, fate, or a higher power, an ATSU professor and his family were saved that day. Had they been on their originally planned timetable, they could have been at the finish line when the bomb detonated.
“I thought, ‘Did someone have a heart attack?’ Then I saw helicopters. I knew something bigger was going on.”
KCOM Physiology Chair Fred Peterson, PhD, was moving a little slower than previously anticipated. He had hoped to complete his fourth Boston Marathon in less than 4 hours, 15 minutes, but was running behind that pace. He was stopped a half-mile from the finish line when a spectator received a call that a bomb exploded.
The spectator passed a cell phone around, and Dr. Peterson was able to contact his family, who were all safe from the blast. His son-in-law, who was tracking Dr. Peterson’s pace, knew they had more time to make it to the finish line. A timely visit to the restroom also delayed their arrival. They saw the blast from a block away and immediately left the area. They were unharmed, but concerned there were more bombs.
“It really puts in perspective how fortunate most of us are most of the time that we don’t happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You look back and ask, ‘What if I had been on my goal? What if my family hadn’t stopped to let the kids go to the bathroom?’”
He never saw the scene of the blast and spent the next 45 minutes making his way to get his belongings. Dr. Peterson says he was playing that mind game that runners do, because they have so much time to think: “‘I am really cold. How small of me to worry about that. I am so fortunate to be here and be alive. There are folks in there who may be dying.’ The real shock came about two days later. The first few days were about making sure everybody’s OK.”
Although the marathon ended in a tragedy he thinks about every day, Dr. Peterson says it won’t stop him from going back. After a 17-marathon career, he is thankful he’s had the strength and ability to keep running, but he doesn’t know how many more marathons his future holds. He is especially thankful he and his family safely returned from Boston on April 15.
“Had I been on track to get the time I was shooting for, I’d have been real close.”
Levine Photo Credit: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe