Michelle Kanavos ’81

(Photo Courtesy of Michele Kavanos ’81.)

(Photo Courtesy of Michele Kavanos ’81.)

Norwich MCV graduate Michelle (Wood) Kanavos ’81 is an adult primary care nurse practitioner who also teaches at Framingham State College. A member of the NUAA Board of Directors, she is married to Lt Col Jay Kanavos, USAF (Ret.) ’80. Their son, Eric, will be a rook in the Class of 2019 at Norwich this coming fall.

Truth be told, I do not like to run. I like to hike in the mountains with my family. What led me to the Boston Marathon was a unique combination of skills I had acquired along my own life journey. Beginning as a nurse, progressing to nurse practitioner — as well as volunteering with the American Red Cross and the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) — was a good combination of skills and experience. In 2007, when the Boston Marathon decided to partner with the MRC, I became captain of the Sweep Medical Team. For six years running, I oversaw a staff of 250 medical personnel that triaged runners over one-and-a-half miles of roadway beyond the finish line.

After the 2012 Marathon I was offered a new position with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) as the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) medical liaison for the course. So I was not in Boston when the bombing occurred: I was actually in the MEMA bunker in Framingham.

It had been a perfect race day with no major issues. I was chatting with Dan McElhinney ’80, who was in the bunker as the FEMA representative, when the bombs exploded. MEMA has a wall of TV screens, with the race results being shown on one. There was idle banter from the news anchors when suddenly a large sound silenced our voices and we turned our attention to the screens. Someone commented, “It’s probably a manhole cover.” The picture was magnified, and one of the MEMA staff got right up to the screen and said, “It’s a bomb.” The room turned quiet for a moment; then everyone started working. Phones were ringing and people were sharing information as they heard it. The decision was made to call off the race, and runners were stopped at the last eight tents along the course to prevent them from moving toward the bomb site.

When runners have gone a long distance in cool weather and are suddenly stopped, medical issues such as hypotension, fainting, hypothermia, and fluid electrolyte shifts can be very dangerous. Personnel along the race course were now dealing with the very same issues that the Sweep Medical Team handles at the finish line. To complicate matters, the tents along the course were not equipped with large amounts of Mylar blankets, electrolyte supplements, or food. I worked with MEMA personnel discussing some of the unique issues those last eight tents were about to face. I coordinated with course personnel, relaying information, and I also worked with BAA officials answering questions related to medical issues.

While I was worried about all my friends and co-workers near the bomb site, my job was to coordinate the issues at hand, so I stayed focused on my work until there was nothing more I could do. I went home that night feeling lost and helpless. I just could not get my head wrapped around the senselessness of what had occurred.

The amount of experience I have gained while volunteering for seven years as a medical team captain and liaison at the marathon is monumental. And when the time came to do what needed to be done, I was proud that I could provide assistance to help protect our runners when they needed it most. Despite all the time I have spent around runners, I still do not like to run. But if I ever change my mind, I know that the Boston Marathon provides unparalleled care from everyone associated with the team, and that I had the opportunity to play some small part in that when it truly mattered more than I could have ever imagined.

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