Student Spotlight: Chris Spielhagen

CPS - Chris Spielhagen PhotoPurdue Global Student and Soldier Risks His Life to Save a Woman in the Boston Marathon Bombings

Chris Spielhagen, 34, is a Team Sergeant in the 10th Special Forces Group in Fort Carson, Colorado, and a student at Purdue Global.  Born and raised in Boston, he went with his wife and daughter to run the Boston Marathon and to see his extended family.  Two minutes after he crossed the finish line, the nightmare began.

Elated that he shaved 7 minutes off his time from last year, Spielhagen was exhausted after finishing the grueling 26 mile run.

“I heard the first bomb only 50 meters away, and I thought it was strange to hear cannon fire. I turned around and saw the smoke, and my military experience as a Special Forces demolition engineer automatically kicked in. It most certainly wasn’t cannon fire. I knew something catastrophic had occurred, and I knew there were people that were hurt and maybe even dead. I had to help.

Spielhagen tried to start running but his tired legs seized up.

A few minutes later, the second bomb went off.  He was able to call his wife on his cell phone before the towers were shut down, so he knew that she and his daughter were safe.  “Then I had no problem running toward the first bomb.”  He pushed a volunteer aside under the finish line sign and weaved his way through three separate fences to get to the victims.  Spielhagen then visually assessed them and saw that the first two were stabilized and not in need of critical care. The third one was a blonde woman who was in need of urgent care.  She was losing blood and was in bad shape.  “I told her I was going to help her: that all she had to do was trust me, and that she was going to get through this.”

Spielhagen knew her lower body injuries were severe.  “After assessing her overall condition, I started from the hips down. She had a deep laceration on one leg that went nearly to the bone, a severed Achilles tendon, and her left leg was shattered into an L-shaped position.”

He quickly used what supplies he could gather from nearby medics to stabilize the woman until she could be treated by the medics and transported to the hospital.  Spielhagen treated her laceration and splinted her thighs, knees, and ankles together and started an IV.

“At that point, an emergency medical technician came up and classified her as ‘urgent surgery,’ the most critical status that civilian medics have,” he said.  They carried the woman away on a stretcher. 

Spielhagen was told that if not for his care, the woman would have probably died.  “I put her back together and saved her,” Spielhagen said.  “I just kept thinking about my family and I would hope someone would do the same for them.”

Then Spielhagen set off to find his wife and daughter.  He knew they were next to the second bomb site.  “After an hour I found them. We were reunited when my wife saw me and called my name. I turned around, kissed her and my daughter, put my daughter on my shoulders, and told my wife to stay with me—that we needed to get out of there.   Luckily, since I grew up in the area, I knew my way around.”  They made it home safely.

Spielhagen had always been physically fit growing up in Boston.  He played soccer and wrestled in high school.  It wasn’t his first time running the Boston Marathon.  He also ran in 2012, the second hottest marathon in Boston Marathon history. 

Spielhagen says his military background, which includes three tours of duty in Iraq, was really what helped prepare him for the tragedy.

“I have been in the US Army for 16 years.  My grandfather was an inspiration to me.  He served in the US Army and was an 82nd Airborne World War II veteran.  He attended one of the first airborne schools in December 1942.  Ironically, I graduated airborne school in December 2001, nearly 60 years later!  I think my grandfather would be proud of me and my actions.”

In addition to his military duties, Spielhagen is currently earning his Bachelor of Science in Communications at Purdue Global.  He expects to graduate in two years.  “I chose Purdue Global due to its competitive program and military assistance.  I know that having my degree will open up more doors for the future,” he said.  Spielhagen enlisted for a few more years, and when he graduates, he may enter his studied field.

In the meantime, he is back running, along with his wife, who plans on competing in the Boston Marathon with him next year. 

Reflecting on that day in Boston, Spielhagen says he suffers from some post-traumatic stress after the tragedy that killed three people and injured more than 260.  “I can still see the victims, the blood, the woman’s injuries.  I can smell the black powder and burnt clothes. I can remember everything I told people around me to stabilize my patient. It runs through my mind at a couple of times a day,” he said.  “It was not my first traumatic incident, especially after serving in Iraq three times, but it really hit home being on the same grounds my grandparents, my mother, my sister, and I grew up playing on.” 

Spielhagen says it helps to talk about what happened, and advises others to do the same.

When asked if he has been in contact with the woman he helped, Spielhagen said that he knows who she is and that he has tried to contact her but due to patient confidentiality laws, the hospital needs to respect her privacy.   “I read the other day she had her 7th surgery on her leg(s).  I think about her a lot and I hope she is doing ok.  I hope one day that we can meet again.”

At Purdue Global, we feel fortunate to have everyday heroes like Sargent Special Forces Group Spielhagen at home and serving our country.

This testimonial was obtained by Purdue University Global. Purdue University acquired Kaplan University in March 2018 and created Purdue University Global, which is following the same curriculum format and instructional delivery methods as developed and used by Kaplan University. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individual; student experiences may vary.