BOSTON (CBS) – A Newton-Wellesley Hospital nurse who was one of the first responders at the marathon bombings is no stranger to catastrophic events.
Betty Sparks has been a nurse for more than 30 years and a member of one of the state’s Disaster Medical Assistance Teams since 9/11. “I”m trained to go to disasters. I’ve been to Katrina. I’ve been to Haiti. You name a disaster and I have responded to it, ” says Sparks.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake reports
She also has spent eight years in the medical tent at the Boston Marathon as a volunteer, adding it has always been a great training ground for disaster medicine. She says three hours into the 117th running of the race, it had been only moderately busy. “We probably had about 100 runners in the tent at the time and it was the usual stuff, stomach aches and cramps,” Sparks recalls.
Her daughter-in-law, also an ER nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, was running her first Boston Marathon, and her son had stopped by the tent to say hello. At that time, about 2:30 pm, she directed him to the finish line where she told him he could take great pictures. Twenty minutes later, she recalls, “Boom. You hear the first boom, and then the second boom.” A short time later, she heard that ER doctors and nurses were needed at the finish line. “So, I get to the scene, and as I’m running in, they’re bringing Jeff, the gentleman who lost both legs, out. And, they’re bringing Krystle and they’re doing CPR on Krystle. So, I’m seeing that in my periphery going by, and then in front of me, I now see blood, bodies, and limbs and smoke. Right about there I’m starting to feel the panic and the tears, because this is not what I expected and I do not know where my son is.”
Sparks says that someone asked for a defibrillator, which she caught in midair, and adds as she went to work on the injured at the bomb site, her phone began to vibrate. “That’s when my son texted me back with the words -Two bombs, I’m OK. So now, I can come out of ‘mom mode’ and just respond.” She added that Boston EMS was right there. “These guys, you look down, what do I need to do, stop the bleeding, put in an IV and get them in an ambulance. That’s what we did, stop the bleeding, and put in an IV. I didn’t even have tourniquets. Somebody would come and make a tourniquet out of their own arm so I could put an IV in. I have to say I did not see many faces. I saw arms and limbs because that’s what I needed to do. Belts. A lot of the victims had belts as tourniquets, ” she recalls.
Sparks remembers a woman in a blue down coat. “Her coat feathers got all over the tent, but someone in the tent said -when feathers fly, angels are near, or something like that. I remember that. Also, she had an arterial bleed in her leg so we had to put a couple of IV’s in her. I also was looking for morphine for her, but there was no morphine available.”
Sparks says she later found out her daughter- in-law was stopped at mile 25, but she wasn’t able to leave the medical tent for several hours after the blasts. ” They kept doctors and nurses there because we did not know if more things were going to happen. So they kept us where we were in case we had to spring into action again. By 5:30 or 6:00, they finally said we could go, but, where do you go?” Sparks asks. “I texted everyone to find out where they were, and we met at the Park Plaza Hotel. That’s where all the runners were. They were sitting on the floors, glued to the TV. The lobbies were packed with people glued to the TV. My family was at the bar, except my son hadn’t made his way. So I’m in my ‘automatic mode’ until my son showed up. And then, I lost it. That was my moment. I had held it together until I saw my son in the bar at the Park Plaza Hotel,” Sparks recalls.
Sparks also said she is so glad she was able to help. “I feel privileged that I can do that. I feel privileged that I have the skills. I mean, if I wasn’t there, I’d be like, damn, I want to be there. I’m crazy like that,” Sparks said.
She also says her daughter- in- law wants to run again, and SHE vows to be at the Boston Marathon medical tent again next year.