After a heart attack in 2002, Donald Burklow had fully healed and was an active grandfather and shooting enthusiast.
However, his heart problems continued, and in 2007, he underwent a triple bypass. But with the expert care delivered through the Wellmont CVA Heart Institute and Bristol Regional Medical Center, Donald is back on the shooting range.
My name is Donald M. Burklow, and my heart story began in
the fall of 2002. I had, for 10 years, gone to Georgia to deer hunt every fall.
But that year, I had not been feeling well and did not go at
Thanksgiving, as usual. I had several dizzy spells but would not give in to the
thought that something was seriously wrong.
On Dec. 16, I was working on Christmas gifts for my
grandchildren, when I had a feeling in my chest I had not had before. I went
upstairs and laid down on the bed but could not get comfortable. I called the
wife and told her how I felt.
She drove me to Dr. David Thompson’s office. I know we
should have gone to the emergency room, but I never thought it was that bad. By
the time we got to the office, I could hardly stand. The nurse did a quick EKG
– I saw the look on her face and knew it was bad. She got Dr. Thompson, and he
confirmed that I was having a heart attack. He explained that the best thing to
do was to go in with a cath at Bristol Regional Medical Center and see if it
could be fixed and save more heart muscle.
Minutes later, two nurses were getting me ready, as Dr. David
Beckner with the Wellmont CVA Heart Institute was on his way. He explained what
he was going to do and started the cath. I don’t know how long it took, but I
still remember feeling the pressure on my heart as he put the stent in. There
was no pain – just the awareness that he was doing something in there. As they
were wheeling me back to CICU, I became aware that the feeling I had with the
heart attack was gone. My wife told me later that I said to her, “They fixed
I spent a couple of days in the hospital. After about two
months Dr. Beckner, signed me up for cardiac rehab. They really put you through
it there – you learn to put a heart monitor on yourself, and a nurse sits at a
console and monitors you as you exercise. Each visit more exercises were added,
and by the end of rehab, I was in good shape and had the confidence to go out
and do things.
For the next five years, things went well and I lived a
normal life doing the things I liked. I joined Kettlefoot Rod and Gun Club and
started shooting skeet and trap. Both Dr Thompson and Dr. Beckner pushed me to
keep doing it.
Dr. Beckner checked me every few months. And then in May of
2007, he said something right – we needed to do a cath and see what is going on
in there. He told me to not worry, that he could put another stint in if
When I woke up in the cath lab recovery, Dr. Beckner opened
the curtain and came in. I asked if he had got me stented up.
He said, “No unfortunately, the blockage is too close to a Y
in the blood vessel – I can’t stent it without losing an artery. You will have
to go in for a triple bypass.”
I felt as if I had been hit in the head with a 2x4. An
appointment was set up to explain everything to us. When I had all the
information, I agreed that the only thing to do was to set up the bypass. I
told Dr. Beckner I wanted the best surgeon available, and he told me Dr. Marcus
Williams was one of the best, if not the best, in the southeast, and he would
be the one doing my bypass.
We reported to Bristol Regional at two minutes after
midnight May 17, 2007, with surgery scheduled for 8 a.m. There was a lot of
prep work, and I was nervous, but the next thing I remember was waking up just
a little in CICU.
After a day or so in CICU, I was transferred to a room in
the heart wing. I had tubes sticking out of my stomach and heart leads
everywhere. I was shocked at how little pain there was, and that the incision
was so tight no bandage was required. I was encouraged to get up and walk – a
caregiver walked with me at first. I had a little problem with fast heartbeat
and had to spend eight days in the hospital and not the usual five.
All the nurses in the heart wing were the best. Before I
left, they all wrote something on the heart pillow you are given. One nurse,
Tara Lawson, stood out as being even more special. She was on the night shift
and would come in at 10 p.m. with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and talk while
I ate it. She encouraged me to get on with my life. She told me that God,
through the doctors and hospital, had given me more life.
On my pillow, she wrote, “Life is what you make it. Remember
what things in life are most precious to you, don’t stress the small stuff. I
am glad I got to meet you and Jody. May God bless and hold you in his arms.”
About two months after my bypass, Dr. Beckner got me booked
into cardiac rehab again. At the end of that, I started going to the YMCA to
Both Dr. Thompson and Dr Beckner encouraged me to get back
into shooting. I not only started back, but progressed to the point that I made
the Tennessee Allstate Trap Team two years in a row.
In December of 2012, I lost my wife, and a few months later,
my mother. I just quit and laid down for a long time. Again, both Dr. Beckner
and Dr. Thompson told me I needed to get up and do things. They both told me
that I was the only one who could overcome this.
With their encouragement, I have started shooting trap again.
I have come back to the point that I have won trophies in both the Tennessee
and North Carolina shoots this year.
One of the first questions Dr. Thompson asks me at each
appointment is, “Are you still shooting?” Then he says, “Keep it up, it has
been very good for you.”
Whether you were born at Wellmont, healed here or both, we want to hear about it! Your experience drives our caregivers and inspires our communities. Share your story with us.
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