If not for a sleepy baby, Dr. Alok Gupta would have been near the finish line when bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon last year.
This year, he has firm plans to be in Copley Square — after running 26.2 miles as part of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s marathon team.
Asked last December if he wanted to run the marathon with his colleagues, Gupta initially thought he was “not nearly athletic enough,” he said. “The longest I ever ran prior to December was probably 3 miles.”
With the marathon about 18 weeks away, he did some research and found training programs of just that length.
“It was like, go big or go home,” Gupta said.
He tried a few practice runs and made the commitment.
His run this year is a tribute to the bravery he saw last April.
On Patriots Day, Gupta completed rounds in Beth Israel’s surgical intensive care unit and returned home to the Back Bay at about 2:15 p.m. to find his daughter Ishani, then 3 months old, napping.
“Rule No. 1 is you never wake a sleeping baby,” said Gupta, who decided to postpone his planned visit to the finish line until Ishani woke up.
Soon, sirens began wailing outside, and a colleague was on the phone summoning him to the hospital.
“I was out of the house in less than a minute,” he recalled. “I was here at Beth Israel Deaconess in less than five.”
Gupta reached the emergency room before the first patient arrived and guided the treatment of 24 survivors, who arrived in waves, “doubled and tripled up in ambulances,” he said. “It wasn’t unusual to see two or three of our most critical patients all arrive at once.”
By 5:30, the patients were receiving treatment, and his focus shifted to their longer-term needs.
At Gupta’s urging, the medical center assembled a first-of-its-kind multidisciplinary Mass Casualty Service to streamline access to an array of care that eventually included nearly 30 services.
‘It wasn’t unusual to see two or three of our most critical patients all arrive at once.’ - Dr. Alok Gupta, on the injured arriving to Beth Israel after the bombings
Dr. Elliot L. Chaikof, chief of surgery, credited Gupta with quickly foreseeing the challenges ahead.
“Alok really recognized from the outset . . . the need to coordinate care, that there are so many different services, and so many of the patients were going to require repetitive operative procedures,” Chaikof said.
As the hospital’s senior director for social work, Barbara Sarnoff Lee was part of the Mass Casualty Service.
She said Gupta, who is 37 but looks years younger, demonstrated “sophisticated leadership” remarkable for a doctor early in his career, but also a healthy blend of seriousness with humor.
“These are such hard times, and at some point humor is a way of managing the stress,” she said. “There were times where he would crack a smile, and he would say something that was funny, and it was just the right mix of, ‘This is very serious, but it’s OK to lighten up once in a while.’ That’s emotional intelligence.”
Erika Brannock, a preschool teacher who lost her left leg above the knee and suffered severe damage to her right leg, said Gupta was part of a medical team that became her second family.
Brannock, a Maryland resident and devoted Baltimore Ravens fan, bonded with Gupta through conversations about the football team and shared experiences from his college years in Baltimore and later as a surgical fellow at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center.
“He is so comfortable to talk to, and I could feel how invested and connected he was to me not just as a patient but as a person,” said Brannock, 30, in an e-mail.
Brannock endured 11 surgeries over 50 days. As tough as her recovery was, it was also difficult to leave the medical staff that had become dear to her.
“They made me feel safe and important to them,” she said.
In his Boston Marathon application, Gupta paid tribute to Brannock and the other survivors he treated, saying they were “like no other patients I have ever met.
“They have left a permanent mark on me,” he wrote. “I have become a better physician, husband, father, brother, and friend.”Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.