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WBUR Oral History Project: Dr. Leslie Morse

Dr. Leslie Morse

Interviewed by: Jayne Guberman

Date: April 8th 2014

Location: Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital (Charlestown, MA)

Recorder: Joanna Shea O'Brien

Photo: Dr. Leslie Morse (Photo by Joanna Shea O'Brien)




Dr. Leslie Morse grew up in mid-coast Maine, the daughter of a lobsterman. Trained in osteopathic medicine, which emphasizes preventative medicine, Dr. Morse focuses on interventions to prevent bone loss for spinal cord injury in both her clinical practice and her research.  At Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, she directs the SCI Model System, dedicated to improving the lives of people with physical disabilities.

During the Boston Marathon 2013, Dr. Morse was working for the second year as part of the medical committee overseeing the event for wheelchair athletes.  In her interview, she describes the volunteer medical briefing at 7:45 am at the John Hancock building, followed by the wait for the first athletes to arrive in the medical tent.  Assigned to the first pod just inside the tent opening, she describes working with her podmate, Mitch, to hang a bag of saline solution for an athlete when they heard the first explosion.  When the second bomb went off, she instinctively knew something bad was happening. 

Dr. Morse relates how the “MC” directed medical personnel to move people to the back of the tent after the explosions to make room for expected casualties.  Within moments, Dr. Morse and her podmate were tending to the first bombing victim, looking shocked but not badly injured, who was brought into the medical tent by wheelchair.  As more seriously injured survivors arrived, she describes the MC’s soothing reminders to the assembled doctors that they knew what to do and how to help.

Moments later, Dr. Morse responded to a call for all doctors to go to the finish line.  She recalls running towards and arriving at the blast site, as spectators streamed away in panic.  She vividly remembers the chaos and the scene of horror, strewn with blood and body parts, as people tended to the injured.  She joined with others trying to stop the bleeding of the severely wounded and administering CPR, as well as getting the victims onto stretchers and into ambulances.  After the blast site was cleared, Dr. Morse, along with her husband, joined a group of doctors headed for Boston Common to care for runners who ended up there. 

Throughout the interview, Dr. Morse describes the intense emotional and psychological impact of the bombings, from the early days when the events played a continuous loop in her mind to her feelings, a year later, of having confronted pure evil.  “I feel like I stood witness,” she said, “to a horrible act of cruelty.”  Noting that, as a doctor, her entire career is about trying to do good, she feels that she will carry the scar forever of seeing firsthand the results of this deliberate attempt to inflict devastating harm on fellow human beings.  



Audio Clip 1

Dr. Morse discusses the explosions she heard and the preparation for the influx of patients to the medical tent where she and her partner, Mitch, were stationed.

Audio Clip 2

Dr. Morse describes the call for all physicians working within the medical tent to go to the finish line and the scene that follows.

Audio Clip 3

Dr. Morse describes driving with her husband and daughter to their home in the Berkshires where she spent the week after the bombings gathering fallen tree limbs on their property.

Audio Clip 4

Dr. Morse reflects on the emotional impact of the bombings as she came face-to-face with the human capacity to do evil and inflict suffering.

Audio Clip 5

Dr. Morse talks about the lasting meaning of being a witness to the scene at the finish line.

Full Interview


Related Links

WBUR Oral History Project: Stories from the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network

Maureen Banks (COO of Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, First Time Marathoner)

Dara Casparian and Samantha Conley (Physical Therapist and Occupational Therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Provided Rehabilitation Care to Survivors)

Suzette Chiong-Oglesby (Clinical Nurse Manager, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Mother of Marathon Runner, Marathon Spectator, Witness to Bombings, Treated Survivors)

Dr. David Crandell (Director of Amputee Services at Spaudling Rehabilitation Network, Marathon Runner)

David Storto (President of Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Marathoner)

Timothy Sullivan (Director of Communications, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network)



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