Improper Bostonian Features Compelling Interview with MNA/NNU Member and Marathon Bombing First Responder Betty Sparks
This week’s issue of the “Improper Bostonian” features a compelling interview with MNA/NNU Board Member Betty Sparks, where she discusses her courageous actions and thoughts during the aftermath of the Marathon Bombing. Betty was working the first aide tent at the finish line and was among the heroic group of first responders at the scene, at the same time that her son was at the finish line waiting to take photos of her daughter-in-law who was running the race on that tragic day.
56, BAA medical-tent volunteer; operating-room nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital
Sparks administered IVs and applied bandages at the site of the first explosion, then helped transport victims to the medical tent.
Sparks: I’ve been a nurse for more than 35 years. I’ve worked in the ICU, ER and presently in the OR at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. I’m also on the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, MA2-DMAT. I deployed with this team to many hurricanes, including Ivan, Katrina, Gustav and most recently Sandy. We also went to Haiti after the earthquake, where we preformed surgeries out of tents—a real M.A.S.H. unit.
I’ve volunteered for the past eight years with the BAA, where I’ve worked in the finish-line medical tent. I’ve always found this to be the best training in mass casualties that I can get. But this past year proved to be more training than I asked for.
I was having a fairly easy day in the med tent caring for runners who had cramps and blisters and a few of whom were dehydrated, needing IV fluid. My daughter-in-law, Amy, was running her first marathon. Her parents had come from Colorado to see her cross the finish line with her 19-month-old daughter, Mackenzie, in the stroller. My son, Scott, had just come to visit me outside of the med tent. I told him to go to the finish line so he could take a picture of Amy as she crossed, then I went back to work.
Not 10 minutes later, the first bomb went off. Then the next one. We were told to stay with our patients, but I texted Scott and asked him what the explosions were. Before he replied, a police officer was wheeled into the tent with a bandage around his head. The next announcement called for ER nurses and doctors to grab IV supplies and go to the finish line. I did just that. As I ran out, Jeff [Bauman] was being wheeled toward me, both his legs were gone. Next I saw a stretcher coming at me. They were performing CPR on Krystle [Campbell].
I called Scott and yelled into the phone for him to call me—I needed to know where he was. I didn't know that the phones weren’t working at that time. I was now at the bomb site.
There were people lying on the ground bleeding. I remember trying not to slip and fall in the blood on the ground. I was asked to start IVs and to get a defibrillator, as CPR was being given to yet another victim. I also placed bandages on open wounds and helped transport victims into ambulances and wheelchairs so they could be brought to the medical tent. As I was helping to get a victim out of Marathon Sports, someone announced that they found another device, and we needed to evacuate the area quickly. We gathered the remaining victims and hurried them back to the med tent where we continued to treat their injuries until they could be transported to the hospitals. Not having medication to treat their immeasurable pain was very difficult for me.
The hardest part of the whole thing for me is wondering what I would have done if my son, Scott, was one of the victims lying on the ground when I got there. It turns out he was in front of Marathon Sports just before the bomb went off but couldn’t get a good spot to take a picture, so he left and was walking back toward the finish line when the bomb went off. He texted me to tell me he was safe, but I was too busy at the time to check my phone. They kept the doctors and nurses at the med tent for a while after the last victim left in case anything else happened. I did meet up with Amy, her parents and Mackenzie, but when Scott walked into the room all my reserve let go, and I collapsed into his arms and cried my eyes out. I’m very proud to have been a part of that amazing response.
I was amazed at how well everyone worked together to save all those individuals. There was no panic, just requests being yelled out and quickly responded to. As a matter of fact, it was kind of eerie-quiet for such a horrific scene.
Yes, I will be back on duty in the finish-line medical tent again next year. I was in the BAA medical tent for the 10K on June 23. And yes, my daughter-in-law, Amy, is running in that one as well as the Falmouth road race in August. So no, we have not been broken. We are now and will always be Boston Strong.
—As told to Hannah Lott-Schwartz