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April 2006 - Volume 2 - Issue 10

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Miracle Workers

Medical Docu-Reality TV Show Offers Hope

Redmond Burke, M.D., seems to have been destined to co-host the new ABC Television Network’s ‘Miracle Workers’ about people with life-altering medical problems who find healing in spite of overwhelming odds.

Knowing he wanted to be a heart surgeon ever since he was a freshman in high school, Burke feels he now has a chance to inspire other young minds to choose a career in medicine through his work with the TV series. Today Burke is director of cardiovascular surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women.

Burke saw the path he need to take early in his life. "It was one of those epiphanies after I read an article in Life Magazine about the first heart transplant at Stanford University," says the cardiovascular surgeon. "I knew from then on what I needed to do to reach my goal. It’s been a very difficult path but I had great surgical training from Nobel-Prize-winning instructors at Stanford and Harvard Medical School."

A heart surgeon for about 15 years now, Burke began his career at Boston Children’s Hospital as an instructor in surgery at Harvard Medical School. He performed New England’s first heart-lung transplant on a child.

"Then I had the opportunity to go to Miami Children’s Hospital to build a world-class congenital heart program of my own – with a synchronized team of people who celebrate each other’s successes," says Burke. "This was a chance for me to make a difference. So I went to Miami as a very young chief of pediatric cardiac surgery."

His staff told him recently that ABC Network was casting for a medical reality show. "It was to be a show depicting the best of American medicine and that was a story I definitely wanted to tell," explains Burke. ABC Network interviewed hundreds of physicians from around the country before deciding on Burke and his colleague, Dr. Billy Cohn, also a cardiovascular surgeon and co-director of the Cullen Cardiovascular Research Lab at Texas Heart Institute in Houston. The other members in the ‘Miracle Workers’ team are Janna Bullock, RN, MSN, Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA; and Tamara Houston, RN, Mt. View Hospital, Las Vegas.

‘Miracle Workers’ will deal with people suffering from a full range of medical problems. "We were looking for innovative solutions to very complex and devastating problems such as Parkinson’s disease, scoliosis in children, brain tumors, chronic back pain and degenerative arthritis," explains Burke.

Burke says to validate his and Cohn’s stature as hosts for the show, each doctor operated on a patient at his home institution. "I operated on a young boy with a lethal heart defect and Billy operated on a woman with end-stage heart failure so viewers could see why we would be valid choices in helping these people tell their stories to viewers," he says.

Each show in the six-part series will feature two episodes, each devoted to one patient’s story. The show will follow each patient in his or her journey from initial medical consultation, to the operation itself, to the effect these life-changing operations have on them and their families. Patients will not only have their health back, but their quality of life will be improved dramatically.

"During the first stage, we meet the families and understand the scope of their problem and the emotional impact of their illness," explains Burke. "We talk about the financial impact, stresses on the family and how devastating it is for a person’s life to be consumed by pain, deformity, or a life-threatening problem."

During this first stage, Burke and his team establish an emotional bond with the patient and family, gaining their trust, and helping them articulate to the viewers how difficult their problem is to deal with on a daily basis.

The second stage within each episode actually takes viewers inside the operating room where Burke and his team explain, in lay terms, the medical technology and the step-by-step procedures as they are performed by a team of medical specialists.

"The final stage of the show is the rewarding part of the story," Burke says. "It shows how each person’s life is changed once they found a medical solution to their problems. For example, you get to see what it’s like for a man to see his wife and children for the first time after being blind for 22 years."

The series will encompass a wide range of medical problems, including a young boy who is congenitally blind; a man with a life-threatening and growing brain tumor that was causing blindness; a little boy with a brain tumor, discovered serendipitously after a motorcycle accident; a woman with degenerative back arthritis; a dancer with degenerative hip disease; a woman with Tourette’s syndrome; a woman with Parkinson’s disease; a man with acquired blindness; a woman with breast cancer who successfully fought it off twice and then developed cardiomyopathy from her chemotherapy; and a man who lost his right arm in an electrical accident and then crippled his left foot in an industrial accident. There are also two heart patients – one a 5-year-old boy having his third and final heart operation performed by Burke. "I had first operated on him when he was just five days old – then again when he was five months old."

"These are truly miracles and that is why we called the series ‘Miracle Workers,’ " explains Burke. "It’s remarkable how far we have progressed in medical technology and the things we can do now that we almost take for granted. It’s profound to see people, such as the young woman afflicted with Tourette’s. She had always felt like an outcast and now she is able to go back to school and regain a normal life. She can feel like she is part of life again instead of being on the outside looking in."

The purpose of the series is to educate the general public and inspire others – especially young people – to become doctors, nurses or healthcare workers, says Burke. The series is also meant to give hope to other patients watching who might not know where they can turn for help. Burke plans to establish a Web-based information system – similar to webmd.com – where people can find accredited pathways for medical help.

Burke says he is stunned by what he learned in doing the series. "The people were inspirational and their stories reaffirmed to me the power of families to heal and the remarkable bravery of the common man," he says.

Burke hopes he can spark the imaginations of young people and others. "If I can inspire just one person the way I was so their life could be one of healing and medicine, then that alone would validate this project," he says. "The other thing about this series is that it is a powerful and effective platform to inform people out there who are desperate and think there is no hope. This series will show them there could be a solution for their medical problems and they should not give up looking for help and for answers."

Dr Burke can be reached by calling Cynthia Gutierrez-White at (305) 668-5514.
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