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On April 15, 2013, LSA alumnus and orthopedic surgeon Scott Ryan (’01) was just about to begin his third surgery of the day when a nurse came bursting into the OR.
“She said that there had been an explosion in Boston and there were multiple people injured,” Ryan says of the Boston Marathon bombing. “My initial thought was that it was a joke. ‘No,’ the nurse told me. ‘They’re going to be downstairs in a minute.’”
Thus began one of the busiest, most hectic, stressful, and memorable days the 33-year-old Ryan has had. Tufts Medical Center received 18 people who were injured in the bombing.
“I’ve seen injuries far worse than this,” Ryan says of the victims sent to Tufts, “but I hadn’t seen [that many] injuries come into the ER all at once.”
Ryan, chief of orthopedic trauma at Tufts, began by waking up his patient on the operating table and postponing his scheduled surgery. He then headed to the emergency room.
“It looked like utter chaos,” he recalls.
The injured were separated into three trauma bays, assessed by general surgeons, and moved to a side room. A second wave of patients then arrived in the ER and went through the same evaluation.
“Our goal that day was to assess the injuries, stop the bleeding, clean the wounds, and have the surgeons provide repair,” Ryan says.
The seven doctors in Ryan’s surgical group then “got together and said, ‘Here are all the injuries.’ And then we figured out who best could treat each injury,” Ryan says.
Ryan took care of a patient who was watching her daughter run the marathon when one of the two bombs went off, causing an open wound to her knee.
Ryan spent about four hours in surgery repairing the knee. Twice, bomb scares—one in the ER, the other just outside the building—evacuated the hospital, but Ryan and the others kept right on operating. Nurses and other hospital staffers would occasionally stop by with the latest news surrounding the bombing. He finally finished up around 10:00 P.M.
Just Doing My Job
Being in a hospital, being a doctor, being able to help in a situation like that third Monday in April was something Ryan had wanted to do “for as long as I can remember.”
He grew up in Connecticut, but was looking at Big Ten options for college because both his parents went to Purdue. On a tour of campuses, Ryan and his father cruised through Ann Arbor and came away—well, unimpressed. To this day, he is unsure what parts of campus the two drove through, but he had one thought as they saw the mess and dangling shoes tossed over electrical lines: “This is gross.”
He and his father headed on to Madison and the University of Wisconsin. But later, something drew him back to U-M. He wanted a school with a strong science background, a good social life, and a place that celebrated football Saturdays. He also liked LSA’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). He applied and got in—and then saw the real campus.
He majored in cellular and molecular biology, joined Psi Upsilon fraternity, and spent more late nights at the library than he would like to remember. He credits U-M for giving him a great balance of fantastic academics and an enjoyable social life.
U-M “molded my personality, brought me out of my shell and that has helped me with my patient care,” Ryan says. His office at Tufts features “15 things that have some sort of block M.”
After graduating from LSA in 2001, he attended Tufts University School of Medicine. He trained at Boston Medical Center for five years, getting mentored in trauma surgery.
He completed an extra year of “intense, hard-core training” in orthopedic trauma at the University of Maryland Medical Center and then returned to Tufts for an academic position. He does surgeries, sees patients in his clinic, mentors residents, and teaches at Tufts when orthopedics comes up in the curriculum.
He sees everything from grandma’s hip fracture to a weekend warrior’s torn anterior cruciate ligament. “My specialty is broken bones,” Ryan says. “I chose orthopedic trauma, the worst of the worst, the more complicated injuries.”
Most mornings, Ryan rides his bike to the hospital, arrives by 6:30 A.M., and is in surgery an hour later. The number of surgeries each day varies. Ryan says his busy seasons are summer when people ride—and crash—motorcycles, and winter when people slip and fall on the ice.
For his busy day on April 15, he says an adrenaline rush when he first got to the ER helped him focus. Afterward, he had a chance to check his cell phone, which had 30 text messages from family and friends asking if he was all right.
He says that in the midst of his work, his attention was just on doing his job. But once he had a moment to take a breath, “then it became very emotional,” he says. “I couldn’t believe what had happened. It was very overwhelming.”
The days following the bombing “blend together,” Ryan says. Like others, he was glued to the television and had an “eerie,” lonely ride to work the morning the city was shut down while police searched for the second bombing suspect.
The way the nursing and hospital staff performed under stressful conditions to the way the city rallied around each other made Ryan proud “to be a Bostonian.”
Ryan has visited with his damaged-knee patient and other bombing victims who were treated at Tufts, and he says the worst part is that the patients saw their injuries.
“We see motorcycle accidents, car accidents and those patients are often not awake or they don’t see their injuries,” he says. “My patient saw part of her knee blown off. That’s the most disturbing part.”
He was heartened, while talking with his knee patient afterwards, to hear her praise his demeanor when she first arrived at the emergency room.
“She told me how I came up to her in the ER and told her I’d fix her knee, that she’d be fine and I would take care of her,” Ryan recalls. “She told me I put her at ease. That’s the biggest reward, hearing that from your patient.”
The events on April 15 also affirmed that he is doing what he was born to do.
“Fixing something like that (injury) —it’s a rush,” he says. “I love doing this.”