• Donald Burklow, heart patient

  • Donald Burklow
  • 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.

  • Donald tells his Wellmont story

    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 me.”

    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 needed.

    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 exercise.

    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.”

  • My Story

    Share your Wellmont story Learn more

    Whether you were born here, healed here or both, we want to hear about it! Your experience drives our caregivers and inspires our community. Share your story with us.

  • Share your story

    Did a compassionate smile lift your spirits? Or did a world-class team of physicians save your life? Whether you were born here, healed here or both, we want to hear your story.

    If you do share your experience, you may be contacted by a Wellmont representative for more details.