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S.A. doc first responder at Boston Marathon
April 25, 2013

Dr. Jorge Alvarez (left), a cardiologist with the Cardiology Clinic of San Antonio, talks with his wife, Becky, after a ceremony in which he was honored for assisting the wounded after the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Photo: Billy Calzada / San Antonio Express-News

By Jessica Belasco, San Antonio Express-News

When the first bomb exploded at the Boston Marathon on April 15, hundreds of people ran away from the scene. Dr. Jorge "George" Alvarez, a San Antonio cardiologist, ran toward it.

Alvarez, a doctor with Cardiology Clinic of San Antonio, was volunteering in the medical tent near the finish line at the marathon while his wife, Becky, ran the race.

As a first responder, he tended to the wounded even as police shouted at him to evacuate in case another bomb exploded.

"I was scared, but I had to do whatever I could," said Alvarez, 39, a father of two. "I remember thinking I might not see my family again."

Dozens of Alvarez's colleagues gathered Thursday at Methodist Hospital to honor his actions.

When the first bomb went off, the doctors inside the medical tent weren't sure what had happened.

"Everybody was just in shock," Alvarez said. "When the second one went off, it was like in a movie. You could see the terror."

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and called his wife. Becky, who had crossed the finish line in three hours and 52 minutes, assured him she was safe. Then he got to work.

People lay bleeding with limbs blown off, jagged bones sticking from their skin, hair singed.

"You had to decide, 'Who do I try to help first?'" he said. "At first, it was whoever was closest."

He began chest compressions on a female with no pulse as another doctor attempted to identify her injuries.

"You could tell that she just had had massive blunt trauma," Alvarez said. "I remember we were working on her, and somebody grabbed my shoulder and said, 'Look guys, she's dead. You need to move on.' That's the young girl that passed away."

Alvarez had begun working with another victim when a police officer rushed over and began shouting that there was another bomb in the area.

"I remember at that point thinking, 'OK, so, I'm about to die,'" Alvarez said. "But at the same time, you can't leave. I remember looking at him and yelling at him, 'What do you want us to do? We can't leave these people here. They're going to die.'"

Alvarez said the team of doctors worked efficiently to stabilize patients and move them from the area.

They had little more than gauze on hand. Alvarez used his belt to make a tourniquet to stop the bleeding from one victim's leg.

When his work was finally finished, he said he noticed his hands were bloody but his clothes were spotless. He realized he had never knelt on the ground.

"It was just me ready to run, yet still trying to do whatever I could," he said.

In the meantime, his wife was waiting at the hotel, remembering 9/11, wondering if another bomb was set to go off.

"I was glad he was there to help, but as the father of my children and my husband, I was a nervous wreck," she said. "The panic didn't go away until he walked in the door."

Back home in San Antonio, Alvarez can't stop hugging his sons, ages 6 and 9. One gave his father his Superman cape "so I can help more people," Alvarez said. "I just wanted to cry."

"He was a hero," said Methodist Hospital CEO Gay Nord at the hospital gathering on Thursday. "As we all know, Dr. Alvarez is a champion for patients, so it's no surprise to any of us he was the same during the Boston tragedy."

Alvarez said he would volunteer at the Boston Marathon again if he gets the chance.

"It would actually be an honor," he said.

 

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