Six Heroic Saves
For the victims of the marathon bombings, the process of healing isnât merely physicalâitâs emotional, too. And the bonds they forged with the doctors who treated them that fateful day have helped restore both mind and body.
Trauma, burns, and surgical acute-care doctor, Brigham and Womenâs Hospital
Carpenter and professional pool player, Stoneham
Jarrod Clowery admits that before April 15, he never would have thought that he and Robert Riviello had much in common. But the two quickly bonded over the doctorâs equipment. âShow me a surgeonsâ tool set and I can show you its cousin in carpentry,â Clowery says. âTheyâre basically mechanics on the human body.â
And Clowery needed a lot of bodywork. Heâd arrived at Brigham and Womenâs covered in second-degree burns; his legs were full of pellets and nails, and he had âshrapnel sticking out all over the place,â Riviello says.
Cloweryâs physical recovery was impressive, but Riviello has been even more taken with the way the patient has grappled with the changes in his life. Heâs grown closer with his mother and son, and though heâs unable to work construction jobs due to his injuries, heâs now hoping to create a foundation that recognizes everyday heroes. âHeâs put a lot of stock into what this means. It wasnât just that he was injured and recovered. It was that he was injured, recovered, and transformed,â Riviello says.
âYou got one second of the worst that humans can possibly do, followed by endless seconds of good,â Clowery says. âIf my attitude is an inspiration, itâs because of the doctors and the first responders.â
Chief of vascular surgery, Mount Auburn Hospital
Richard âDicâ Donohue
MBTA officer, Woburn
Frank Vittimberga was sleeping when his phone rang just after midnight on April 19. His wife, whoâd stayed up watching the news, already knew about the shootout in Watertown. âI said, âI have to run into the hospital, someoneâs been shot,â and she said, âI donât know if you should go, theyâre throwing bombs,ââ he recalls. âI said, âIâm used to bombs.ââ
Vittimberga, the chief of vascular surgery at Mount Auburn, learned his trade treating soldiers during the Vietnam War. When he reached the hospital, he learned that Donohue had been shot in the groin and was losing blood fast. âThere was blood everywhere,â he says. âThis bullet had gone into his groin very high up, making a small hole on the outside and a large hole on the inside.â
The operation took six hours, Vittimberga says, and âhis leg was perfect by the time we were through.â
Donohue remembers nothing about that night, but when he woke up several days later, he was overwhelmed, both by the sea of visitors (including an entire SWAT team in full gear, several Red Sox players, and Kevin Spacey) and by the patience of the entire hospital staff. âThey put up with the line of police officers all day and night,â he saysânot to mention his constant requests for Big Macs (no dice).
Inpatient medical director for the amputee program, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
Heather Abbott & Roseann Sdoia
Human resources manager, Newport, Rhode Island & Property manager, Boston
As news spread through the city that many of the injured would need amputations, David Crandell began readying his staff. âWeâre not first responders. Weâre not even second responders,â he said of his team at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. âBut we were going to need to respond in a way the other places didnât.â
Within a week of the bombings, Spaulding was attending to an influx of patientsâ33 in all, including 16 who had lost limbs and needed to be fitted for prostheses. For Heather Abbott and Roseann Sdoia, it was an odd reunion. Theyâd met a few times through a mutual friend who had put them back in touch just a week before the marathon. After the blast, theyâd been sent to different trauma hospitals for their injuriesâSdoiaâs right leg was amputated above the knee, and Abbott lost her left footâbut they arrived at Spaulding at nearly the same time.
Abbott was too upset to take part in the support groups Spaulding offered. âThe only other person I was able to interact with was Roseann,â she says. But the pair bonded with Crandell when they learned that he had been the team physician for the U.S. National Amputee Hockey Team, which Sdoiaâs friend had played on. In time, Crandell became the womenâs team physician as well. This past May, Sdoia played catcher as Abbott practiced maintaining her balance so she could throw the first pitch out at Fenway Park.
âA lot of healing happens here,â Crandell says. âThey learn that having an amputation shapes you, but it doesnât define you.â
Vascular surgeon, Boston Medical Center
Professional ballroom dancer, Boston
As she was being wheeled into the operating room at Boston Medical Center, Adrianne Haslet-Davis told everyone within earshot that she was a ballroom dancer, and they needed to save her foot, which had been badly damaged in the blast. Just hours earlier, sheâd been celebrating her husbandâs return from Afghanistanâtheyâd toasted his safe arrival over brunchâonly to find themselves in a war zone.
âI went into surgery thinking that I wasnât going to lose it,â she says of her left foot. Shortly after the procedure, she spoke with her surgeon, Jeffrey Kalish. âI could see on his face that he so desperately wanted to tell me that it was still there,â she says.
âI told her, âYou still are a dancer, itâs just going to be different,ââ Kalish says. Then he made her three promises: When it was time for her to have her stitches removed, he wanted to be the one to do it. When she was ready to dance again, he would be there to see her. And when she was ready to take on the Boston Marathon, heâd be cheering for her on the sidelines. âSheâs a firecracker,â he says. âI said, âI will be there, no matter what it takes, to watch you.ââ
Jennifer L. Hoffman
Orthopedic surgeon, Tufts Medical Center
Lee Ann Yanni
Physical therapist, Boston
Lee Ann Yanni was at the finish line, waiting for one of her physical therapy patients to complete the race, when she felt something warm brush up against her legs. Looking down, she saw bone and blood. âThe bone broke out of my skin and shattered in pieces,â she says. Sheâd seen enough injuries to know it was bad. And yet she began plotting her own recovery in the ambulance on the way to Tufts Medical Centerâsheâd been training to run the Chicago Marathon, and asked the EMTs if the hospital had good orthopedic surgeons.
Jennifer Hoffman was in the ER when Yanni arrived. âShe had a bad open fracture on her leg with shrapnel [in it], and she had some tendon and nerve damage,â she says. Shortly after Hoffman performed the initial trauma surgery, Yanni was already focused on her next race. âThe first time I remember seeing her I said, âWhen can I run?ââ Yanni recalls.
Hoffman quickly learned the unique challenges that arise when a patient is also a physical therapist. âLee Ann fully understood the ramifications of what was going on,â says Hoffman, who saw Yanni push herself harder, perhaps, than she might have pushed her own therapy patients. âI think she mentally knew what she should and shouldnât be able to do, but it was still hard for her to dial it back and say, âOkay, this is whatâs expected for the injury I have.ââ
Yanni was unable to walk on her leg for five and a half weeks, but resumed her marathon training shortly thereafter. âAs a PT I knew that I shouldnât be running, but they knew how important it was for me to do it,â Yanni says. In October she finished the Chicago Marathon in five hours and 44 minutes.
Orthopedic surgeon, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Senior art director, Boston
When Tamara Rozental arrived at Beth Israel shortly after the bombings, Christian Williams âwas the first person I laid eyes on,â she says. And his injuries were extensive: Williams had severe wounds on both legs, but Rozental, an upper-extremities specialist, immediately grew concerned about his right hand, which was broken in several places. âHis hand had basically been blown off, and his index finger was hanging by a thread,â she says.
âI think she knew right off the bat that my hand was going to take the longest to recover from,â Williams says. Rozental kept tabs on his progress, visiting him daily, but lost track of him after he was released. âI made multiple attempts to get ahold of him and his docs, but I couldnât find him,â she says. She did have his cell-phone number, so she texted him to make sure he was okay.
Once they made contact, Williams says, âSheâd ask me to send her a photo of my wounds every two daysâ to help manage his care. What began as a string of digital diagnoses developed into a friendship. And when he learned that his girlfriend, Caroline, who was also injured in the blasts, was pregnant, âDr. Rozental was the third person I told, other than my roommate and my brother, that we were having a baby,â he says.
Now sheâs looking forward to getting another cell-phone photoâa baby pictureâaround Christmas.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/article/2013/11/26/top-doctors-boston-marathon-patients-photo-essay/