Transcript: Need to Know Rochester for January 8, 2010

Associated Show Highlight: 
Dr. Brad Berk

Also as Dr.Brad Berk gets ready  how will his experience as a patient change what he does

I'M JULIE PHILIPP, THANKS FOR JOINING US FOR THIS EDITION OF NEED TO KNOW.

 

DR. BRAD BERK IS THE C-E-O ON LEAVE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER.  THE 56 YEAR OLD BRIGHTON HIGH GRAD TOOK OVER AS HEAD OF THE MEDICAL CENTER IN 2006 - ANOTHER STEPPING STONE IN HIS STELLAR CAREER.  BUT ON MAY 30TH, IN A MATTER OF SECONDS, DR. BERK'S LIFE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY.  I RECENTLY SAT DOWN WITH HIM TO TALK ABOUT THE ACCIDENT THAT INJURED HIS SPINE, THE STRUGGLE TO RECOVER, AND WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS.

 

(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. established as in still compassion and directions.  The two words of to use our compassion and attentiveness the store that the best exemplifies that this was in the I see you I've been there about 10 days and is a nurse came up to me who is taking over of the break and she said that may Dr. Burke u really look like a major hair washed.  Is there and done that? Sure when she got as bag and they have for i c patience should for the matter much my hair.  And then try that that was the most pleasurable fanatics parents in 10 days.  About sure she even knew the facts but not sure still provide feel as my head.  Really the positives of course I made her feel so good to the ~ as the greatest.  Human idea out w/ it fell in chico really good the cheated the that.  It's that two-way interaction that so incredibly important for the patient.  You continue your physical therapy out as a feel one sensation the strength returns to buy a part?

 

That's fantastic because the threshold for not love and and situations where you can do chat good Monday can't.  Some of lunch a one-year-old son close threshold moments this so exciting because you want to have a the to-not sure if and when that will happen.  Three weeks ago also like a brush my teeth.  Of the drama and never hold fan that fall of the keep trying to all someone better I can hold that the I can tell you brush your own tea feels really good in do a lot better than anybody else Kent.  Those moments those breakthroughs are incredibly positive.  You read Helen Keller's which is making each of for strides learn and speak and to write to understand braille.  Breakthroughs of all sudden you get it. 

 

All the way the mustard frustration was moments when your feeling down the overall your positive personality idea overcome Muslim? He

 

Aaron autographs and grant writing has been a very helpful to exercise for this because the hard to get the grants.  You know that the pill I'm Natalie be time% sorry go unfunded u feel really good.  A little delicate one u said of jack I go to the Texas.  You just can linger eh your failures this the same thing here celebrate successes and failures is that-they'll get it some is a good day is some is about this.  You draw the good ones and ignore the battle.

VD was very frustrating for a long time and when I was so we had lunch class we go along Jamaica s work Walsh is kinda of some pleasant because where they Alatas to eat was there put a guard around the plate few mushy foods up against a guard Vegas that wooden bridge your mouth decade maybe half -- so for be exhausted because of its a so heart of my arm.  Have retired fluoresces that amicable love affairs

 

And then I could finally is my vices for the well as of the oven and a strong enough to eat and sure enough to keep the myself a didn't need the guard it was a much more satisfying experience.  I think it's too things wanna ethics keep trying things are so frustrating to them that don't do that. 

 

Ne started CO u really started to build a the medical centers of research at aim from national prominence as a research institution has been a setback to that ??

 

(Dr. Berk)  The medical center has of incredibly well.  A big this year roam some record again start it up 13%.  Was aided in part by the stimulus package but certainly the research arm has grown to imagine mild interest in spinal cord injury and narrower generation, The New York State stem cell bored and I couldn't be more excited to be working there and finding is France because the cells are gonna be part of the way the people with injuries like mine recover.  A learn from the accident with these two words the resale of time quality and safety is hmmm... now I really strong understandings  of what those mean. 18:00:00 And I think we as a medical center, began about a year ago, to really focus on quality and safety and I am more determined than ever to make Strong a zero tolerance place.  That is no tolerance for mistakes so we had things like line infections, we reduced them by over 90% this past year, but the goal is to have zero because it should be just like the airlines, that is you get on the airline, you are extremely comfortable that the plane is going to get there, whoever the pilot is.  It needs to be the same way at the medical center.  You as a patient have to feel that you are in a safe environment, that's the foundation.  Once you are safe then you can have all those good interactions that I just mentioned and quality comes for safety.  If you have a culture that focuses on safety, you will also focus on quality.  And the third thing I realized is service, which is this interaction between the provider and the patient, is incredibly important because it is key to satisfaction.  People choose to be in the health care profession because they want to do good, they want to help people but they also, from time to time, need to get the satisfaction of having a patient say,"Thank you, that really felt great" or "I really appreciate the caring" so we need to work on that component as well.

 

 

(Julie) Research has been your passion as well.  Have you been able to get back in to the lab?

 

(Dr. Berk)  Yes when I was at Keser even I got a PC computer that had this program called Dragon Naturally Speaking, it's a voice recognition system so I could answer my emails just talking in to them and  the lab would send me their data every Friday by e-mail and work on it over the weekend and send it back to them.  So the lab kept going and I submitted a grant in November a month after I got home and the lab is doing great.  The biggest problem I had is, there are a fair number of people in the lab, they usually stay for two or three years, so every year I would have to hire five new people, so during those six months I was out I didn't hire any one.  I've been very busy trying to hire people to replace the people who are leaving.  So the lab has done very well. I think it was a good experience for them because a lot of them had to take on more responsibility and get more organized since every Friday they had to get me their data. 

 

(Julie) What does fully recovered mean to you?

 

(Dr. Berk)  Fully recovered, in simplest sense, means being able to do all the things I need to do to do my job and to enjoy my family. You hope, of course, that you would recover to your same function as before the accident, that's another definition of fully recovered, but I'm happy somewhere in between I think.  What I said to myself right after the fall was that if I get out of this without needing to be in a respirator I'll be happy and that's still my philosophy.  So everything that I've gained beyond that right now is really just icing on the cake.  Because the accident that I had is very similar to the one Christopher Reeve had.  He unfortunately did not regain his respiratory function.  He couldn't breathe on his own and as consequence he did not move very much and ultimately died of the complications of that.  I feel very fortunate to have gotten beyond just being on a ventilator.  Everything else is a great challenge and great pleasure when I accomplish it but to be fully recovered means back to work and back to my family. 

 

(Julie)  You have said that you will return as CEO when you can put in a full day's work.  Any idea when that might be yet?

 

(Dr. Berk)  I think in the springtime.  The physical therapy is going great and as long as I keep gaining new abilities and keep doing it is as full time as possible.  Even when I come back I'll probably still do it three times a week something like that just to make sure that I get back to full strength.  They say usually it's sort of one to two years for full recovery, so I'm only at 7 months.  So I think another 3 to 4 months will get me pretty close to being able to come back full time.  Energy wise I'm fine right now.  I stay up later than my wife but it takes a lot of time out of the day to do therapy.  Three hours right now.

 

(Julie)  Finally for the people watching this, what do you want them to take away from learning it and hearing about your experience?

 

(Dr. Berk)  Well first I want to thank them.  So many people reached out to me.  I can't always thank everyone of them so this is one of the main things I want to do is thank everyone for supporting me and being there.  I am really greatful and I hope as CEO to be able to, in some measure, not pay them back, but, acknowledge their gift and show them by inspiring people that it's a worth while gift.  So the second thing is to inspire people.  I think many people have illnesses, chronic problems, and I think it's part of life that you're going to have an accident and the key I have discovered and we have talked about is to have the determination and the will to keep fighting through it and to hope for the best.  My goal is to inspire people to do that and to make people want to take the challenge to not give up.  Be an advocate for themselves.  The third thing is for the medical center, I want to come back as CEO as you've heard, and impart some of my own experiences to make us a better health care delivery system and to make it more satisfying for our employees so that they really enjoy their job even more fully than they do so lots of reasons to come back.

 

(Julie)  Thank you very much, it has been a pleasure.

 

(Dr. Berk)  Julie, my pleasure as well. Thanks.

 

DR. BRAD BERK, C-E-O ON LEAVE - AT LEAST FOR A FEW MORE MONTHS - FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER. 

 

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I'M JULIE PHILIPP, THANK YOU FOR WATCHING THIS EDITION OF NEED TO KNOW.  IF YOU'D LIKE TO WATCH TODAY'S INTERVIEW WITH DR. BERK AGAIN, WE WILL BE PUTTING IT ON OUR WEB SITE - WXXI DOT O-R-G.  WE'LL BE BACK NEXT WEEK WITH AN ALL NEW NEED TO KNOW.  I'LL SEE YOU THEN.

 

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