Burkes Invest in Life-saving Expertise

This story appears in the Winter 2016 issue of the Life.Giving.Breakthroughs. donor newsletter.

Twelve years ago, Jane Burke was on vacation when she suddenly felt troubling symptoms, including shortness of breath, weakness, and blue discoloration of her hands. Doctors at the local emergency room were unable to pinpoint the problem. For the next five years, Jane and her husband, Bob, continued searching for answers, only to receive mixed diagnoses from specialists across the country.

“Nobody knew what was wrong with me until I was encouraged to see Dr. Aaron Waxman,” says Jane. “Then everything changed.”

As head of the Center for Pulmonary Heart Disease at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Aaron Waxman, MD, PhD, has seen hundreds of cases like Jane’s. Waxman also trains young physicians to distinguish telltale signs of pulmonary arterial hypertension from other cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions. Waxman’s reputation and warm manner reassured the Burkes. Bob says they “instinctively trusted him to solve Jane’s problem.”

Jane’s condition stabilized under Waxman’s care, and she has remained in good health since. Additionally, Jane’s participation in a clinical trial led by Waxman to test an innovative drug for pulmonary arterial hypertension gave the Burkes firsthand perspective of the value of research and its significance in bringing life-changing therapies to patients in need.

Meanwhile, they learned about Waxman’s efforts to pass his expertise along to trainees. “We saw that expanding his work would be a way for us to show our appreciation,” Bob says.

The couple established the Burke Advanced Fellowship in Pulmonary Heart Disease, one of the first in the United States to cross-train physicians in cardiovascular and pulmonary medicine. The fund, which sustains a position for two years at BWH, empowers the fellow to combine the heart and lung disciplines and develop more personalized, patient-centered care.

“Dr. Waxman is an inspirational physician, not only in terms of the way he treats people, but also in the way he teaches these young physicians how to practice medicine with a human touch,” says Jane. 

“It’s wonderful to know these specialties will be working together in the future,” Bob adds, “and that our support can help change the course of medical education.”