We're taking Good Care of Runners.
Cape Cod Healthcare is the exclusive medical care provider of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race. Informally, CCHC has been helping sponsor the race for years, through the long-time involvement of Falmouth Hospital physicians and staff. They have volunteered at the FRR almost from the beginning, and have played an integral role in making the race as safe and successful as it has been over the last 41 years. Our 5-year sponsorship began last year, and has formalized our medical affiliation with the race.
Your gift of volunteering and participating is more important than ever.
Our partnership with the FRR fits with our mission and sets an example of our commitment to the health and wellness of the community we serve. It highlights the fact that our staff and employees are personally connected to the community, volunteering their time and unique talent for a good cause. Last year, the race raised $1.9 million for charity.
“This race would not go on without Cape Cod Healthcare,” said Christine Frazier, New Balance Falmouth Road Race president. “You have been behind the scenes putting in about 350 man hours each year.”
Many from FH have returned to volunteer year after year, and many have brought family members, who themselves have remained loyal to the FRR cause.
Falmouth Internal Medicine Physician Arthur Crago, MD, who, along with Dr. Richard Adams, was Medical Director of the FRR until about 10 years ago (and still helps out each year), acknowledged that the medical team from FH has played a key role in the race’s success. “I’m sure that over the years we’ve saved many lives,” he said.
FH Chief of Emergency Medicine Rob Davis, MD, and Clinical Coordinator Ginny Brodeur were among the first group from the hospital to be involved with the race, in the mid 1970s. The first FRR was held in 1973, with a budget of $500 and 92 runners. By 1977, the race had grown so large that it became obvious to the FH medical staff and the Falmouth Fire Department that medical care sites along the race course were necessary. A team called a “Splash Unit” was started by Dr. Crago and Dr. Adams, along with the late E. Arthur Robinson, MD; as well as Ginny, who enlisted other volunteer nurses, respiratory therapists and secretaries.
The all-volunteer FH Splash Team – now called the Falmouth Road Race Emergency Care Team - staffed the stations to provide immediate treatment to runners suffering from hyperthermia, both to relieve the burden on the FH ED, and because it was better treatment, Ginny said.
“We have runners with temperatures up to 107 (degrees). That’s the main reason we need it right there,” she said. Body temperatures that high are extremely dangerous and the patient needs swift attention.
Ginny, retired ED Nurse Lois Griffin and another FH nurse, Sharon Dennett, wrote an article about what the medical team had learned about urgent care at road races in a 1989 article in ER Nurses magazine. Rapid and effective cooling is necessary to prevent death or permanent damage to the brain, liver, kidney and heart, they wrote. Hyperthermia is usually quickly reversed with prompt recognition and treatment, and they had learned just what did the trick – immersing hyperthermic patients in ice tubs.
The practice, which had been considered controversial for heat illness patients up until then, was proven by the FRR medical team to be the most effective method of cooling a patient, said Dr. Crago.
Most patients, if treated quickly and urgently, get better right away, added Dr. Davis. “It’s the time spent above 104 degrees that counts.” There is about a half-hour window in which to turn the hyperthermic patient around, he said.
The early Splash Team started with kiddie pools and later had a better style designed specifically for the race, Ginny said. Hyperthermia victims stay in the ice water for 20 minutes until their internal temperature reaches 102 degrees.
Falmouth’s climate in August can catch even the best runners off guard, Ginny said. Temperatures on race day can range from 70 to 90 degrees with relative humidity between 60 and 90 percent. In 1982, internationally known marathoner Alberto Salazar was treated for hyperthermia that caused his core body temperature to reach 107.9 degrees, Ginny said. He required follow-up care at FH, and had a complete recovery.
People experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke often become delirious and combative, Dr. Davis said. “We’ve had college linemen come in and they go completely bonkers. Usually they don’t remember. But they go from being completely out of it to fine (after the ice water treatment).”
One diminutive woman became so crazed one year, it took six people to hold her in the tub, Cr. Crago added.
The hilly FRR course begins in Woods Hole and travels along the ocean past Nobska Light, through a wooded section and then along the beach by Falmouth Harbor. There are three medical tents along the way: at the Band Shell, at Mariner’s Point, as you come down Falmouth Heights Road; and at the finish line in Falmouth Heights.
“We see a patient a minute at the height,” Ginny said. “On a hot day, there is a lot of hyperthermia, but on rainy days there are a lot of orthopedic injuries. Either way, we always seem to see the same number – between 65 and 70 (out of 12,000 runners).”
There are a total of between 30 and 40 nurses stationed among the three tents. About 10 doctors are distributed among the tents. All medical personnel wear brightly colored tee shirts that are well marked.
The medical volunteer corps includes spotters who are stationed along the course to alert the team to who may need to be treated. “If their electrolytes are off, they can really go downhill fast,” Ginny said. “Some of them will turn around right away (with treatment), some need intravenous fluids. The sick ones we watch closely and there’s an ambulance there (at each tent), if they need to go to the hospital.
Most every year we’ve had people come up (to FH) because they need more hydration, more blood tests or their temperature isn’t coming down.”
Patients are triaged when they arrive at a medical tent. Vital signs are taken and patients with minor injuries, such as blisters, abrasions, lacerations, minor stings and orthopedic problems are sent to a non-urgent area outside the tent, where personnel are ready to care for them. Hyperthermic patients are considered urgent, since the mortality rate is directly related to the duration of the excess temperature. These patients are placed immediately in the ice tubs, where vital signs are checked every five minutes until their internal temperature drops to 102.
The work is all-consuming and the medical team does not have much chance to enjoy the race, Ginny said. “A lot of years we’ll say, ‘who won?’ because we have no idea. It’s only a couple hours, but it’s intense.”