More than 2,100 runners treated for dehydration, exhaustion

By Carolyn Y. Johnson and Zachary T. Sampson
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / April 17, 2012
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More than 2,100 runners were treated Monday at medical tents along the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon course for dehydration, heat exhaustion, and other ailments as temperatures blasted into the upper 80s, shattering records.

The number of runners requiring medical attention, mostly at the finish line, was 800 to 1,200 higher than during typical Boston Marathons, said Chris Troyanos, medical coordinator for the Boston Athletic Association.

Boston-area hospitals reported that while patient volumes were higher than usual on Patriots Day, most runners were recovering and being discharged. Troyanos said that 152 runners were treated at hospitals, and that eight to 10 runners were in critical condition at some point.

Hospital officials credited warnings to runners by race organizers and advance preparation for making the race safer than in 2004, when temperatures also reached midsummer levels. Significantly more runners than normal, 14 percent, failed to pick up their numbers for the race, presumably because of the heat warnings.

Tyler Husak - a 25-year-old runner from of Olin, Iowa - began wilting at the 23-mile mark. His run became a slow walk. “The running became kind of like a death march,’’ he said.

A police officer approached, then a nurse, who caught Husak as he fainted. He was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he was treated, and he returned to the course, finishing shortly after 7 p.m.

A patient who arrived at Brigham and Women’s Hospital with a 108-degree temperature responded well to treatment, a hospital official said. Two runners who arrived at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in critical condition were placed in an ice bath for five to 10 minutes and were upgraded to serious condition Monday afternoon.

“The root cause of every single one of the presentations is heat-related - anything spanning from some basic heat cramps all the way up to heat exhaustion and up to heat stroke,’’ said Dr. Mark Pearlmutter, chief of emergency medicine at St. Elizabeth’s, which treated 34 runners Monday afternoon, a marked increase from recent years.

At Newton-Wellesley Hospital, which in 2004 had been overwhelmed with 84 patients, more than 60 runners were treated Monday. Only one person was sick enough to be admitted, said hospital spokesman Brian O’Dea.

Runners temporarily flooded other hospitals. For about an hour, the emergency room at Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick was not able to admit more patients, said Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. Framingham Union Hospital’s emergency room temporarily reached capacity, too.

Schwartz said the bulk of the medical issues began to arise in Wellesley, roughly the halfway point, and that there were problems in Newton and Brookline, too. The Boston Athletic Association was still tallying the number of runners treated, but Troyanos said late yesterday afternoon that about 2,100 were seen at medical tents. He estimated 400 more may have been treated at Red Cross stations.

On a day when even the breeze felt like a blast from a hair dryer, many runners heeded race organizers’ warnings to take the heat seriously, cooling off in the spray of hoses or having family members wait with water.

At 11:35 a.m., Sarah Edstrom and her sister-in-law, Cindy Edstrom, came running to the 15.5-mile mark on Washington Street in Wellesley, carrying a collapsible cooler filled with ice and water. Barging past other spectators, they dropped the cooler and unzipped it just in time for Sarah’s husband, runner Dan Edstrom, to kneel and dunk his head deep into it.

Dan Edstrom of Denver suffered heat stroke running the Twin Cities Marathon a few years ago, so he knew he needed to take extreme precautions. His wife and sister met him with the bucket at miles 7 and 17; and his brother-in-law at mile 21.

Jack Fleming, a Boston Athletic Association spokesman, said 3,863 people did not pick up their numbers over the weekend to race, or about 14 percent of the field. Of the 22,426 runners who did pick up numbers, 427 opted to defer for a year. Buses were made available to pick up runners along the course who needed help, but he said nearly 96 percent of those who started the race finished, compared with 98 percent in a typical year.

At the finish line, a steady stream of runners were ushered to the medical tent in wheelchairs. Physicians interviewed runners to assess their mental state. One unconscious man was brought via golf cart.

Runner Paul Guilmette, 48, of Rutland, Vt., found a seat on a Green Line trolley after the race and clutched a bottle of water.

“You had no shade, no cloud cover,’’ said Guilmette, whose skin was still beaded with sweat from running his fourth Boston Marathon.

The cruelest part of the race, Guilmette said, came at the top of Heartbreak Hill, where a cool breeze typically greets runners and propels them to the finish line. On Monday, that reprieve was absent, said Guilmette, whose time of 3:38 was significantly slower than last year.

“The breeze was hot,’’ Guilmette said. “The water was hot. Everything was hot.’’

Travis Andersen, Elizabeth Comeau, Meghan E. Irons, and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondents Peter DeMarco and Seth Lasko contributed to this report. Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at

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