We Are All Bostonians Now

Pharmaceutical industry among the tragedy’s first responders

By Steven E. Kuehn, Editor in Chief

I had just finished catching up on things Monday evening April 15th, and was closing open windows on my computer when I glanced at one of my feeds and caught the news that two bombs had exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I turned on the radio to get more information. A month later the Butcher’s Bill was in, five deaths total and 264 wounded — many severely with grievous wounds to the lower extremities due the design of the improvised explosive devices detonated at the scene.

At the time, my emotions cycled between relief at the limited death toll, anger at the perpetrators, a heavy dismay accompanied by that awful powerless fatalism that perhaps we all feel in the face of this insidious form of warfare against modern civil society, the rule of law, religious freedom and the liberty our democratic republic offers us.

As I continued to listen to reports on TV and on the radio during my commute on Tuesday, pundits repeated that, much like our experience in the wake of 9/11, we are united by this event and that we are “All Bostonians Now.”

The next day, one reporter attributed the low death toll to the fact that present at the scene were hundreds of physicians, nurses and similar health care professionals who sprang to immediate action, providing first aid and delivering stabilizing trauma care within seconds of the blasts. In one of the first official press conferences, I heard the mayor of Boston acknowledge and praise the extremely professional response by first responders, hospitals and the doctors and nurses in the trauma care facilities. 

I imagined these professionals at work, triaging patients, cleaning wounds, prepping victims for surgery and administering everything from pain medications to antibiotics and more. An April 16th, a report from the New York Times set the horrible scene: “So many patients arrived at once, with variations of the same gruesome leg injuries. Shattered bones, shredded tissue, nails burrowed deep beneath the flesh.” Dr. Peter Burke, the trauma surgery chief at Boston Medical Center, said “As an orthopedic surgeon, we see patients like this, with mangled extremities, but we don’t see 16 of them at the same time, and we don’t see patients from blast injuries.” Indeed. Blast injuries are quite challenging to treat with victims suffering from concussion, ruptured eardrums, secondary injuries from shrapnel and oftentimes burns as well.

The Boston Public Health Commission reported that the 264 people wounded were treated at 27 local hospitals. According to reports, some 16 suffered severed limbs at the scene or by amputation later and three lost more than one limb. The New York Times said that, according to doctors, because the bombs were low to the ground, the injuries mainly affected legs and feet instead of abdomens, chests, and heads, and as a result, fewer deaths. 

Fortunately the pharmaceutical industry was right there, too. Not only were the physicians, nurses and EMTs intervening but “we,” as in the collective activities of those involved in the development and production of pharmaceuticals, were on the scene responding as well. I am certainly not diminishing the efforts of the medical community; I’m just trying to point out that their life-saving efforts were made all the more effective through the work the pharmaceutical industry does every day.

Think about all the pharmaceutical therapies available to treat the wounds caused by those bombs. From traditional opiates to treat pain and shock, saline to shore up blood loss, anesthetics for surgeries, and the antibiotics to prevent infection and more; regardless, the list is a long one. And it continues to grow. A quick look at pharmaceuticals being developed to treat traumatic brain injury, for example, point to the industry’s ongoing fight to mend what terrorism aims to break: both our bodies and our minds.

But we aren’t going to let them win because there will always be more good people then there are bad. I’m willing to bet there were many hundreds of people from the pharmaceutical industry involved in the Boston Marathon one way or the other. The region’s concentration of professionals serving the industry is well known. But even though you are working that Monday in the Midwest, on the West Coast or the Southeast (anywhere pharmaceuticals are made), we are all Bostonians now. 
 
Published in the May 2013 edition of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing magazine
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