When the Doctor Becomes the Patient

After losing his son in a tragic accident, the official psychologist of the Boston Marathon tries to heal---through running.

images provided by the Brown family.

images provided by the Brown family.

When the bombs went off near the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon, Jeffrey Brown, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, was right there on the scene. As the official psychologist of the race, it was his job to be there to support runners on their emotional, mind-numbing journey to 26.2.

After the bombings, Brown spent the next few months doing what he does best: helping the city heal. But what followed that unbearable tragedy was another one, and it was something that no one should ever have to go through. In July, Brown’s son Grant, a vibrant six-year-old who loved running, drowned in a tragic accident at a day camp out of state.

That’s why Brown, his wife, Carolynne, and the Hope Fellowship Church have organized a 5K run in Grant’s honor, called the Running on the Streets of Gold 5K, which is raising money for the Grant Brown Scholarship Fund at New Covenant School in Arlington. The race, which everyone involved hopes will become an annual event, is Saturday, July 26, starting at 8 a.m. in Somerville.

“Our church put the race together,” Brown says. “Grant loved to run and be active. He was a clever, funny, and content kid. He actually ran his first 5K at age 5.”

So what happens when the doctor becomes the patient? Do years of training in medical school and in professional practice help the healing process? “No, it’s a whole new ballgame,” Brown says. “There’s nothing that you can do to train for this kind of thing. You can just use common sense. As a psychologist, my wife and I were surrounded by an incredible community from Grant’s school and our church. I’m also surrounded by an incredible professional community of colleagues who swept right in to help. It feels strange putting personal information on Facebook and on a website, but it’s way to reach people fast.”

Brown’s father also passed away just last month, and dealing with multiple tragedies in a row has been hard on the family, but seeing how his friends, community, and even his patients have responded has helped him continue to work, teach at Harvard, and stay on as the official psychologist of the B.A.A.

“I’m learning as I go. Colleagues and I have talked about how we are trained to keep our lives separate from our patients’ lives,” Brown says. “But I’m impressed with how my patients have handled the news. When your patients care about you, it’s just really humbling to have that. We miss Grant fiercely.”


To register for the race ($37.75), or donate to the scholarship fund, visit streetsofgold5K.com