Transcript: Need to Know Rochester for January 8, 2010

Associated Show Highlight: 
Dr. Brad Berk





(Dr. Berk) I was out for a nice ride on a beautiful sunny day and there was a turn, a hairpin turn, You come down a big hill into Vine Valley, so you can see the hairpin turn so I always check to see if there are any cars. There weren't any cars.  You watch those guys on motrcyclys bending thre knees down to the road, that's what you get to do on a hairpin turn.  So there I was  and all of a sudden there's a car.  Big white car, halfway on my side because it's a very sharp turn.  I look at the guy and I was very surprised to see him.  So I tried to slow down and break and there wasn't enough room on the road so the bike ended up skidding over to the side of the road and I had a choice at that moment, which was to fall down,  but there's a very steep embankment and a guard rail that leads down to a stream and going over the guard rail and whacking it didn't seem like a good idea. so I tried to do a mountain bike manouver which is put all your weight on the back tire skid the tire around and head the other direction.  So I did that I skidded really well and turned the bike around and said Okay I'm going to peddle to get out of the way of the car, I peddled, I don't know what happened but I went over the handle bars. 

afterwards my son told me that the tire had blown so the gravel or it had hit something sharp cause it's a road bike tire, It blew.

 So I went over the handlebars and I remember, I thought "oh No!"  and then I heard this snapping sound. I wasn't sure whether it broke my neck in the air or when I hit, But obviously in retrospect I probably hit my head and broke my neck.  And as I was laying there I could feel all of a sudden that I couldn't feel and even my arm suddenly lost feeling and  I was panting on the ground. So I knew that this was a pretty high fracture in the cervical region because I was having such a hard time breathing I thought I fractured the fifth cervical vertebrae.  And the guy in the car stopped and came up to me and said "Did I surprise you?"  And I said "yes don't touch me, I think I broke my neck.  I said "Do you have a  phone? We need to call 911".  Which he did I said give me the phone I'm going to call my family so I called my family and I told them I have this accident, they should come and I told them when they got there they should call emegency department and get in touch with Dr. Maurer and whoever the attendant was in E.D.


(Julie) What was going through your mind about how bad this was?


(Dr.Berk) I knew It was Bad.  I was worried that I was going to die right there.  That my diaphram wouldn't work and Just die there.


So I knew it was really bad,  after a little while a policeman came and literally ten minutes later the ambulance came.  So by then I was feeling much better I was going to make it.   The only distressing thing was that the mercy flight that was coming couldn't land where I was I was hoping they could but they couldn't so I had to get in the ambulance they took me a half a mile of road where there is a big field that's where the helicopter landed and they put me in the helicopter,  so I was feeling that I was going to get to the hospital and they were going to do what they were going to do.  And I told my wife, i Said " I am so sorry because I knew what was coming and I knew that she would have to drive back. 


(Julie) I read something where your daughter on the day of the accident told you "everything is going to be okay"  and you said "No its not going to be okay" And she said it's been alot of hard work since that day", What did she mean, what did it do to you and your family?



(Dr.Berk) This is definitely a family experience, My wife moved down to NJ for the three months I was there. part of the reason we went there is because my son lives in Jersey City about 20 minutes away so he would come every Wednesday and have dinner and have boys night out, He'd come on the weekends so this was a big family experience my daughter Mariah she got very involved.  She went to the Bagel Bin in Brighton and got interviewed by a number of the radio stations,  tv stations.  They had a big display there for people to put cards and well wishes in.  My youngest daughter Sarah, she ran the NYC Marathon and raised money for the Christopher Reeve foundation for final spinal cord research.  I cried when I read her bulletin which really she wanted to do something that was as challenging as the challenges I was facing

and her successfully doing the marathon was a sign to me to successfully complete this.

(Julie) And not only did she complete the marathon she was one of the top fundraisers for the Reeve Foundation.  You've said that the outpouring of support has been very humbling, can you describe the sort of reactions people have had?


(Dr. Berk) It's been truly an outpouring there have been thousands of messages posted on the internet site that we set up. At the hospital 10,000 people are wearing these BC butons around all the time.  and people I haven't seen in 10 or 20 years sent me cards and e-mail's.   friends of mine would come to visit me some of them came multiple times and they're just fantastic.  That support, it was humbling just to know some people were caring the letters were so heartfelt, so sympathetic and in the beginning a little reluctant to accept all this sympathy.  But then I learned over time that people want to help.  They really do their just so warm hearted so good at giving to people.  I've always been a health-care provider never a recepient, so it took me a while to learn how to be a good recipient.  Now when someone comes up to me I always stop and explain the questions, I always have enough time for people who care.   because for me that's my way of giving back for the support I've had. 


(Julie) How do people treat differently than before the accident?


(Dr. Berk) A couple ways the one that you always hear about and read about is just being in a wheelchair.  Your small.  One of the nice things about this wheelchair is you can raise it up. It has an electric motor I can get up to 5'2  It makes a big difference when your in a crowd you're down there, people don't see you as much.  Raising up is a big deal.  That's kind of the most obvious one everyone talks about being in a wheelchair. I think that the two way communication that occurs from being in a chronic situation where your injured or ill you really learn to depend on people.  And you quickly establish these interactions with people where your communicating your needs and their communicating their wishes to you.  You establish a quick emotional bond, so I think the good thing has been a real interest on my part to understand how that emotional bond is created and to create it with people all the time.  Part of the reason I want to come back as CEO is I think the medical center would really benefit from attention to that area.  I've been taking to nurses and talking to the strong commitment group and alot of that is to make health care providers jobs' better by facilitating their interactions with their patients. 


(Julie) What did you experience as a patient that really bothered you and made you think that this needs attention?


(Dr.Berk) Was I noticed was not the bothering side It was the positive side.  There were a group of people that I would say had caring hands they instantly came up to you as a patient and touched you and looked you in the eye and told you what your name was and what they were there for.  established this instant compassion and interaction.  The two words I like to use are compassion and attentiveness. the story that best exemplifies that is when I was in the ICU, I'd been there about 10 days and this nurse came up to me who was taking over. and she said to me, Dr. Burke you really look like you need your hair washed.  Has anyone done that? And I said no is that possible and she said yes we can do that.   she got this bag they have for i c u patients and she put it on my head and washed my hair.  And dried it that was the most pleasurable experience in 10 days.  I'm not sure she even knew the fact but the only part of my body that I could feel was my head.  So she had doen soemthing incredibly nice to the one part of me that could feel.   And that kind of compassion the spontaneous, "oh there's something I could do that would make you feel better, that's what I'm talking about so its really the positives and of course I made her feel so good because I told her that was the greatest.  and she felt really good that she had done that. so It's that two-way interaction that is so incredibly important for both the patient and the provider. 


(Julie) You continue your physical therapy which is having a tremendous impact I remember seeing one video where You said 'I got my bicept on Friday " How does it feel when sensation or strength returns to a body part?


Oh It's fantastic because its a threshold Phenomenon in many situations  where you can't do it, you can't do it, and then one day you can. Like watching a one-year-old suddenly stand up and then suddenly walk, it's those threshold moments that so exciting because you want it to happen you're just not sure if and when it will happen.  Three weeks ago all of a sudden I could brush my teeth.  I'd been trying but I could never hold the thing, it'd fall out but you keep trying and all of a sudden I can hold that.   I can tell you one things brushing your own teeth feels really good you can do it alot better than anybody else can.  Those moments those breakthroughs are incredibly positive.  You read Helen Keller when she was making each of her strides to learn and speak and to write to understand braille.  They're breakthroughs and all of a sudden you get it. It's incredibly gratifying when that happens.


Along the way there must of been frustration, moments when you're feeling down, but overall  you're abitious you're strong,  positive personality.  How do you overcome those other moments?


(Dr.Berk) I write alot of grant and grant writing has been a very helpful training exercise for this because they're hard to get,  the grants, so  you know that the payline might only be %10 so only about %10 of the grants get funded so when you do get one funded you feel really good.  And when you don't get one funded you say okay I'll go to the next one.  You just can't linger on the failures this the same thing here celebrate successes and failures.  It's the same things hereyou really celebrate your successes you remember those and the failures you say the next day I'll get it.  Some days are good some days are bad days. You enjoy the good ones and ignore the bad ones.


I try avoiding the frustrating ones, eating was very frustrating for a long time and when I was at kessor we had lunch class.  They would make us work on eating at lunch, it was kind of unpleasant because the way they allowed us to eat was they would put a guard around the plate, so you could mush your food up against the guard and you could stab it and brign it to your mouth and I could eat maybe half the lunch before I would be exhausted because it was just so hard on my arm.  Then that arm would be tired for the rest of the day i couldn't do alot of other things. So finally when I came home I said forget lunch, I'm going to let people feed me and put my energies elsewhere.


And then when I could finally use my biceps pretty  well I said I'm strong enough to eat and sure enough I could eat by myself and I didn't need the guard it was a much more satisfying experience.  I think it's two things one, just keep trying and when things are too frustrating you can't do them just don't do them let someone else help you. 


(Julie) When you started as CEO you really started to build a medical centers research an aim for national prominence as a research institution has this experience been a setback to that work priority or professional priorities?


(Dr.Berk) No, In fact the medical center has done incredibly well.  I think this year we're goingto set a record in IH funding It's going to be up about %13 which is a huge increase.  aided in part by the stimulus package but certainly the research arm has grown, you can imagine my own interest in spinal cord injury and neuro regeneration, I'm on the New York State stem cell board and I couldn't be more excited to be working there and funding these grants because stem cells are gonna be part of the way that people with injuries like mine recover. So I think that research is incredibly important but obviously the clinical piece is equally important.

And what I learned from the accident is these two words that we say all the time quality and safety which is our clinical priority and now I really have strong understandings of what those mean.