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Salina surgeon who helped victims in Boston anxious to return to Kansas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 16, 2013, at 10:24 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 18, 2013, at 6:22 a.m.

A day after bombs planted at the Boston Marathon turned the finish line into a triage site, Salina surgeon Chris Rupe and his wife, Abbey, mostly remained in their Boston hotel room.

Their focus now is just getting home.

“We have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old who have seen some of the news and saw our picture in the paper and are very concerned about Mom and Dad,” Chris Rupe said of his children, who remained with their grandmother in Salina.

Rupe gained national media attention Monday when he rushed to help victims hurt by the blast and flying shrapnel moments after he completed the marathon. Tuesday, Rupe said city blocks remained roped off around their hotel, located near the bombing site, but that guests were being allowed to exit and re-enter the building.

Despite law enforcement officers packing the streets, the couple canceled their sightseeing plans, venturing out only once by Tuesday afternoon to sit on a bench in Boston Common, a nearby park.

“There’s two to three police on every single block,” Rupe said. “In the hotel lobby there’s police officers. Certainly this area is very well protected, but there’s not much that we feel like doing.

“Our main objective is to get home to see our children.”

‘The right guy’

The Rupes arrived in Boston on Saturday for a five-day vacation planned around the Boston Marathon. Both finished the race before the explosions.

Chris Rupe said he heard the first blast seconds after he crossed the finish line. As he glanced over his shoulder – certain someone had fired a cannon or a building had collapsed – he witnessed the second explosion.

“I saw lots of debris,” he said. “Lots of people screaming and crying and runners that were in that area just coming across the finish line who were obviously very distraught.”

His wife, a pediatrician who finished about 30 minutes before, was already back at their hotel.

“I tried to free myself from the area for safety,” Chris Rupe said, “and then went back there to see if I could help.”

Rupe spent the next hour in a medical tent treating victims with leg injuries and shrapnel wounds. Local emergency medical staff and first responders handled the most seriously injured patients.

After those who were seriously injured were taken to nearby hospitals and marathoners with the usual running-related injuries – like dehydration and foot cramps – arrived, Rupe said he returned to the hotel to reunite with his wife.

Although Chris Rupe dismissed praise for his actions as “just kind of what you do as a doctor,” others call him brave.

“He was the right guy at the right time in the right place to help,” his father, Wichita attorney Alan Rupe, said Tuesday.

“To people who don’t know him, I think the surprising part is the very selfless act of going back to help others. But to those of us who know him, it’s normal.”

‘A joyful reunion’

In the hours after the first news story broke about his role in the victims’ treatment, Rupe said the couple received an overwhelming number of interview requests from reporters.

Eventually, he turned off the ringers on the cellphones to try to get some rest and relax for the couple’s final hours in Boston.

“We didn’t get much sleep last night with all that happened,” he said, adding, “We’re kind of laying low.”

The couple’s flight home from Boston is scheduled to leave Wednesday afternoon. They will return to work Thursday.

Back home in Salina, their children, 6-year-old Katelyn and Colin, 4, are ready to see their parents, Chris’ father said.

“They are anxious for him to get home and for their mother to get home,” Alan Rupe said. “It will be a joyful reunion.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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