Marathons and ultra races have been steadily growing in popularity in recent years. But added participants could mean more injuries and serious incidents such as heart attacks. During the Los Angeles Marathon last month, 21-year-old Jay Yim suffered a heart attack at mile 18, but quick action by a police officer, a doctor and others no doubt saved his life.
That and other marathon catastrophes have gotten people thinking about how to better care for runners. At last year's Detroit Free Press Marathon a new system of electronic medical records made its debut. The volunteer medical staff kept track of data on runners and spectators who needed medical assistance during the race, and military grade laptops were stationed at every remote first aid station as well as the central medical location. The mobile medical coordination center had an electronic event board that could be seen by the medical command staff.
Dr. Christopher Guyer, an athletic medicine physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, was the lead researcher on a study testing the new system. Data on the runners were secure, and they were identified by bib numbers or other anonymous tags to protect their identity.
At the marathon, 216 runners and spectators were treated. The average age was 37.6, and four people were brought to area hospitals. Treatment was concentrated at the start or finish line, the mile 11 station, and the mile 15 station. Three runners collapsed and died during the race.
It's too soon to tell what precise effects the new program had, says Guyer--that may come later when they can analyze a few years' worth of data.
"What we can say right now," he said, "is that there were several examples where we were aided in communication—we were able to tell people where they could find family members who were racers, if they had been transported to a hospital. It made it easier for people to figure out what was going on." More efficient interaction is a big plus, he added, especially at events like these that draw tens of thousands of runners and observers.
After collecting data from a few races, however, Guyer hopes race providers will be better prepared to handle serious problems such as heart attacks by placing doctors, physical therapists and other medical staff, plus defibrillators, at key points along the route.
Guyer presented his findings at the recent annual meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine in Cancun, Mexico.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times