Jeffrey Kalish was walking down Boylston Street to cheer for his wife as she heaved toward the finish line of the Boston Marathon. When the bombs detonated and the fleeing crowds began rushing toward himKim and his 9-year-old daughter, the doctor realized he had to get to work immediately.
The vascular surgeon found a friend to look after his daughter and hailed a pedicab, the only vehicles, aside from ambulances and police cruisers, moving down Massachusetts Avenue.
“I’m a surgeon at Boston Medical Center, and I need to get there very quickly,” he told the driver.
Kalish, who spent the following months treating some of the gravest wounds suffered during the April 15 bombings, was among more than 100 Marathon caregivers honored Thursday night by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, a nonprofit group based at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Having performed four amputations on three of the bombing victims and helped revive one victim after his heart stopped beating, Kalish was honored at the event by one of his patients, Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dance instructor from Boston who lost part of her left leg after being hit by the second bomb.
“It’s impossible to put into words what he means to me,” she said of Kalish, whom she has called a “miracle worker.”
Haslet-Davis addressed about 2,000 people at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and led the applause for the caregivers in the crowd.
“If I could hug them all, I would,” she said. “There are so many people I need to thank.”
She told the group that she and her husband, Adam Davis, who was also wounded during the attacks, were recently certified to scuba dive, which they plan to do soon in Costa Rica. She’s also back on the dance floor and “loving it,” she said.
She had vowed to run next year’s Boston Marathon, but has reconsidered.
“I was highly medicated,” at the time, she said, “so it will be in 2015.”
Among the other caregivers honored was Eun Kim, a registered nurse at Winchester Hospital, who has volunteered at the medical tent at the Marathon for the past decade.
She was among the many caregivers who raced to help the wounded near the finish line, where she administered intravenous fluids and wheeled victims to safety. She vividly recalls how the sidewalk was stained with blood and how the smoke lingered after the blasts.
“It was horrible,” she said. “I’ve only seen those kinds of scenes in the movies, but we all did our best to save lives.”
A colleague from Winchester Hospital, Julie Christopher, remained in the medical tent, where she and her colleagues treated nearly 100 patients in about 20 minutes.
Many of their colleagues experienced dread that day, and some have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. Christopher and Kim are coping with the darkness of their memories.
“There are different situations that bring back the terror, but for the most part, I’m OK,” Christopher said.
Horacio Hojman, a trauma surgeon at Tufts Medical Center, was on call at the hospital when he learned of the attacks. The first victims began flooding into the emergency room 15 minutes later.
Adding to the fear and gravity of the moment, there was a bomb scare at the hospital and everyone had to be evacuated.
Over the coming days, he treated more than a dozen people for burns and shrapnel wounds.
“What was really surprising,” he said, “was how calm and composed everyone was.”
For Jeffrey Kalish, the weeks of treating survivors of the attacks extended into months. Among his patients was Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs.
Kalish performed 10 operations to help his first patient, John Odom, walk again, repairing arteries that were severed in both of his legs.
He does as many as 50 amputations a year, but they didn’t fully prepare him for what he experienced after the Marathon.
“This was one of the most profoundly impactful events to deal with in my entire professional life,” he said. ... It will shape my career forever and has deeply affected the way I think about the health care I deliver.”
He learned to focus more on his relationship with his patients.
“This experience really opened my eyes to the reasons why many of us became health providers in the first place,” he said. “It showed me, at the end of the day, it’s all about taking care of the patients and their families.”
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated an activity that bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis and her husband have been certified in. They have been certified to scuba dive.