Burkes Build Incomparable Heart-Lung Fellowship Program

“Across the country, there’s a shortage of expertise in pulmonary hypertension, so many patients come to the Brigham after being misdiagnosed and improperly treated,” says Aaron Waxman, MD, who leads the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “To close the knowledge gap, we started a special training program for young doctors—all thanks to Jane and Bob Burke.”

Jane is one of many patients who spent years seeking help for symptoms that included shortness of breath, weakness, and blue discoloration of her hands—symptoms that can mimic several health conditions.

After visiting many specialists without any answers, she and her husband were grateful to find Waxman, who identified pulmonary hypertension as the underlying problem. Under his care, Jane’s health improved.

Eager to help Waxman assist other patients with the same disease, the Burkes made a gift to the Brigham in 2014 to establish the Jane and Robert Burke Fellowship in Pulmonary Heart Disease. The hybrid fellowship is the only program in the country that cross-trains doctors in cardiovascular and pulmonary research and care.

“The Burke fellowship changed my life. I couldn’t succeed in my research without the understanding I gained about caring for patients with pulmonary hypertension” —Brad Wertheim, MD, Inaugural Burke Fellow

“When we learned about Dr. Waxman’s vision for this fellowship and his passion for teaching the next generation of specialists, we knew we wanted to support his efforts,” says Jane.

The progress made by the fellows to date impressed the Burkes so much they recently committed an additional $1.375 million to expand the program. They also made a provision in their will to permanently endow the fellowship.

“We made our newest gift in response to seeing the fellows grow and thrive,” says Bob. “It’s wonderful to watch someone go through training and achieve a full-fledged medical position.”

Earlier this year, the first fellowship graduate, Bradley Wertheim, MD, accepted a full-time position in the Brigham’s Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

“The Burke fellowship changed my life,” Wertheim says. “I couldn’t succeed in my research without the understanding I gained about caring for patients with pulmonary hypertension.”

Looking ahead, Waxman is excited to see how the fellowship will help close the nationwide knowledge gap. He says, “The Burkes’ generosity will have a ripple effect. As more doctors are trained to diagnose and care for complex pulmonary vascular diseases more people in Boston and beyond will be able to find the treatment they need.”