Karen Kinnaman ’06: A Hero Among Us

Karen Kinnaman ’06 was honored alongside colleague Heather Studley by the Celtics.
Karen Kinnaman ’06 was honored alongside colleague Heather Studley by the Celtics.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - For eleven months per year, Karen Kinnaman '06—a soon-to-be chief resident of the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency Program—is based out of Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women's Hospital. For the other month, she can be found at Mount Auburn Hospital, a community hospital located in a quiet part of Cambridge, which is where she was on Friday, April 19, 2013.

The early morning of April 19 lives in infamy—the date suspected Boston Marathon bombers engaged in a violent standoff with local police officers in Watertown, MA, a Boston suburb less than one mile from Mount Auburn.

While working in the ER, Kinnaman helped save the life of an individual who was wounded in the shootout. For her efforts, she was part of a group of first responders honored by the Boston Celtics as "Heroes Among Us" during their playoff game with the New York Knicks on Friday, April 26. (The Knicks won, 90-76.)

 "It was a great honor—so overwhelming," she says. "The emotions from April 19 were still very, very raw. Receiving that fan support was an experience I'll never forget."

A teaching hospital, Mount Auburn's emergency room is not often home to large-scale trauma.

"We weren't given much heads up, which was a benefit because we had no time to worry, only to react," she says. "What happened in the emergency room that night was a positive story of hope. It was a testament to the hospital and the people who work there."

A four-year athlete at MIT, Kinnaman captained the women's basketball team and earned varsity letters in soccer, track, and cross country. During her senior year, she was named the Malcolm G. Kispert MIT Scholar Athlete of the Year. A course 7 (biology) major at MIT, Kinnaman says her undergraduate education and athletic background provided a strong foundation for her medical career. She attributes much of her professional success to lessons learned at MIT.

"Being able to stay calm under pressure is something I learned from to playing sports at MIT," she says. "Working in an ER parallels the experience on an athletic field: following your instincts and working together towards a common goal. The emotional highs and lows that take place in an emergency room are similar to the types of emotions you feel in sports."

At MGH, she has a constant reminder of her time at MIT. Her former basketball assistant coach, Kelly Stubbs, is a nurse in MGH's emergency department.

"My coaches at MIT always believed in me," she says. "They instilled in me how to be a good leader in chaotic situations."

For most Celtics fans, a blowout loss to the Knicks would leave little to cheer about. But the ceremony was a compelling moment that New York and Boston fans shared together.

"I'm actually a huge Knicks fan," she says. "But on that night I was all in for Boston. It was a perfect night."


by Jay London, MIT Alumni Association