Sweeping runners out of harm’s way; Westford nurse stayed at her post

By Joyce Pellino Crane

When Diana Walker-Moyer left her Westford home on the morning of April 15 to volunteer at the Boston Marathon, she had no idea that her nursing skills would thrust her into the first known and widespread terrorist attack in this northeast region since 9/11.

       Walker-Moyer was one of hundreds of volunteers on duty to ensure the successful operation and completion of the 117th Boston Marathon – an event, by all accounts, so meticulously planned by the Boston Athletic Association that not one detail falls through the cracks, and yet, the occurrences brought mayhem to Copley Square.

       “There are so many stories that just tear your heart apart,” Walker-Moyer said.

       A nurse practitioner, Walker-Moyer was there to assist those runners crossing the finish line who were exhausted and dehydrated. She’s done the same thing during four previous Boston Marathons.

       But as runners arrived, two bombs were detonated along Boylston Street where the largest group of spectators was standing. The blasts killed three, injured 183, and caused some to lose limbs and suffer hearing loss.

       Walker-Moyer, who works at the student health clinic at UMass Lowell, is a volunteer member of the Upper Merrimack Valley Medical Reserve Corps, based in Westford. She began volunteering at the marathon initially five years ago with other members of the reserve corps, and then continued solo.

       “I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunity to work in a profession where I can help people so I use it when I can,” she said.

       Sandy Collins, the town’s director of health care services, is keenly aware of Walker-Moyer’s voluntary efforts.

       “Diana is one of our most dedicated and active Medical Reserve Corps volunteers,” said Collins. “She joined the unit, becoming one of our first members in 2004. In the past Diana also received the prestigious national ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award given by the Office of Volunteer Civilian MRC.”

The corps is one of 45 units in Massachusetts, and one of 982 in the nation, that is actively recruiting and training volunteers for emergency events. The Westford-based unit includes six surrounding communities poised to help about 250 million residents. Westford’s health department is the lead agency.

Walker-Moyer, who travels each year to Haiti to help victims of the 2010 earthquake, said she’s committed to helping others.

       “Every single one of us can do something, one little thing to help, just because we can,” she said. “I don’t think people can comprehend the detail that goes into running this race. There’s a huge cadre of people who come together...”

According to Walker-Moyer, there were two medical tents set up at the marathon. Medical tent A was located at the finish line, and medical tent B was sited further down the road at Berkley Street near St. James, she said. Inside were emergency room physicians, intensive care unit nurses, and emergency medical technicians.

       Walker-Moyer was asked to oversee a team of 15 health care providers charged with scanning the throngs for light-headed runners as they arrived. Her zone stretched along Boylston Street from a point between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets toward Berkley.

       The trickle of elite runners moving past her at the beginning of the race, swelled to a sea of bodies, as the slower runners finished the race.

       “It’s like swimming in a sea of lemmings,” she said. “There are so many faces.”

       According to the BAA, 23,336 began the race and 17,580 finished.

       Her role was to keep people moving toward a supply of water bottles, Mylar blankets and the medals for finishers. Some team members stood by with wheelchairs in case a runner fainted.

       “People are running this whole time and their heart is circulating the blood and so are their leg muscles,” Walker-Moyer said. “Then when they stop, that leg action muscle no longer is working the same because they’ve stopped moving and they may not be getting as much blood flow to their head.”

       When the first explosion occurred on Boylston between Exeter and Dartmouth Streets, she was walking with a runner. Everyone turned to look. It sounded like a cannon, she said. “But there was no reason for that to happen right then. It made no sense,” Walker-Moyer said.

       “Then the second one went off,” she said. “We were probably 100 yards away from it. Then you have all these people going from joy-faced to sad-faced because they’re in pain.” The second bomb was detonated 13 seconds later in front of the Forum Restaurant between Exeter and Fairfield Streets.

       Medical tent A quickly became a triage center for the wounded.

       “Thank God those people were there because more people would have died just from blood loss,” said Walker-Moyer. “The response was rapid and appropriate and lives were saved.”

       As three police officers rushed past her toward the finish line, Walker-Moyer stayed at her post moving runners forward, said Collins.

“Diana was part of the medical sweep teams at the finish line, helping to move runners away from harm’s way after the explosions occurred,” Collins said.

       Next year she’ll do it all over again, Walker-Moyer said.

       “It’s Patriots’ Day. You think of the citizens who went to fight (in 1775) and we have this citizens medical group who are trained to volunteer when there’s a crisis,” she said. “One of the strengths of our nation has to be a prepared citizenry.”

Source: Wicked Local - Westford 

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