Q & A with George Chiampas, DO, medical director for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Northwestern Medicine
Emergency Medicine and Trauma October 06, 2017
There is no event that puts the City of Chicago on display quite like the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Runners from across the globe pass through 29 neighborhoods as more than 1.5 million spectators cheer them on. Along the 26.2-mile course, more than 1,600 medical volunteers and 21 medical tents are prepared for when the unexpected happens to either a runner or spectator. George Chiampas, DO, medical director for the Chicago Marathon and emergency medicine physician with Northwestern Medical Group, gives an inside look at the important role Northwestern Medicine physicians and staff members play on race day.

Q: What are your responsibilities on race day?
A: I manage the command center and work directly with the race director and general manager for the Chicago Marathon, as well as city, state and federal officials. I also oversee all medical volunteers and EMS support. We start running over our statistics starting at 5 am and don’t stop until the last runner crosses the finish line. We are supported by a situational awareness platform that myself, Karen Smilowitz (professor and co-director at the Center for Engineering and Health at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering) and her students developed. The dashboard shows us information like the time, weather, how many runners are on the course, how many have finished, how many are being cared for at each medical tent and more. The command center relies heavily on the information to make real time decisions like where to move resources.

Q: What roles do Northwestern Medicine physicians and staff members have on race day?
A: Our Northwestern Medicine volunteers play a wide variety of roles. Many of them request the day off of work so they can volunteer for 16 hours, which is so impressive and a testament to what a great experience it is. We have physicians like Dr. Sanjeev Malik, Dr. John Bailitz and Dr. David Salzman, all emergency medicine physicians, who are on our finish line team to help at the end of the race. Dr. Alan Anderson and Dr. Allison Zielinski are both cardiologists on site who play an important role for runners who may present with a cardiac incident. We also have Dr. Michael Peters from the Lake Forest Hospital Emergency Department and Dr. Brian Babka, a sports medicine physician from Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group at the event. 

Nurses are another critical part of the team. We take the collaborative relationships that are built 364 days a year and apply them to marathon day. Rachelle Tulley and Katie Goding, nurses from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, are leading the 24-cot ICU tent this year.

George Mahoney, Jennifer Scalise and the team from the Northwestern Memorial Hospital pathology laboratory are another important part – they run the i-STAT machines that allow us to check a patient’s salt content and other electrolytes. We are also fortunate to have Dan Cronin from the Northwestern Memorial HealthCare’s Human Subject Protection Program, who is a key player in marathon logistics. There are so many other volunteers from physical therapists to residents and many more.

Q: How does your planning impact the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Emergency Department?
A: Our ED is closest to the start and finish lines, so Heather Keirnan (patient care director of Emergency Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital) and Eileen Brassil and Liz Even (patient care managers of Emergency Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital) do a great job increasing staffing for race day and preparing for specific conditions we see in runners. All the work that goes into the plan for the marathon helps keep ED admittances down. Superior Ambulance is our EMS partner in moving patients to the appropriate medical tent on the course and finish line. Often we are moving patients somewhere along the course for care to prevent overwhelming local EDs.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your role as medical director?
A: It is a great personal and professional opportunity for me to give others a unique experience to volunteer and engage for this event. We have a great group of people who are excited to help and use their medical skills to support people with their own goals. For example, many runners at the marathon fundraise for various charities and causes that are in line with Northwestern Medicine, and we are happy to support them. Finally, as a lifelong Chicagoan, being a key lead and collaborator for our city’s greatest annual global event is extremely humbling.
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