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Burgess family ask for help after life-saving heart transplant

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Gloria Burgess, second right, with her son-in-law, Lafael Banks, left, and her daughter, Kamila Banks. In the centre are Mrs Burgess’s husband, the Reverend Milton Burgess, and daughter, Rasheeda Burgess. Beside Mrs Burgess is her niece, Phylicia Furbert (Photograph supplied)

By all accounts, Gloria Burgess is lucky to be alive.

On May 1, after discovering she had “a rare and serious heart condition”, she was airlifted to Boston, Massachusetts.

Doctors there decided she wouldn’t survive without a transplant. Things then happened quickly. Late Friday evening she was put on a donor list, a heart was found by Sunday; on Monday the 67-year-old underwent surgery and received the gift of life.

Friends, family, the congregation of St Luke AME Church and the wider AME church community have rallied in support of Mrs Burgess, a Nurse of the Year who has contributed to the health of Bermuda for more than four decades and is now in need of financial help.

Her husband, Reverend Milton Burgess, and their daughters, Rasheeda Burgess and Kamila Banks hope to raise $150,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. The money will be put towards medical expenses and related costs not covered by Mrs Burgess’s insurance.

Doctors have said that once she is released from hospital she will have to spend a year in the US receiving treatment. As such, the family would also be grateful to anyone who is able to assist with accommodation.

“As we navigate this challenging road, we are faced with a mountain of unexpected expenses. Medical bills, accommodations, medications – the list goes on. The financial burden weighs heavily on our shoulders, threatening to overshadow the hope that keeps us going. That's why I humbly reach out to you today, asking for your support in any way you can,” wrote Rasheeda in an appeal to “friends, family and kind hearts”.

“Your generous donations will not only alleviate the financial strain but will also provide a lifeline of hope for Gloria and our family. Your contribution will mean more than words can express – it will be a beacon of light in our darkest hour, a reminder that we are not alone in this fight.”

A registered nurse and midwife, Mrs Burgess worked at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for many years before joining the government's Maternal Health & Family Planning Clinic.

Gloria Burgess, a former Nurse of the Year, received a heart transplant this week after doctors discovered she had a rare and serious illness (Photograph supplied)

In 2014 the Bermuda Nurses Association named her Nurse of the Year.

Rasheeda, who lives in Oklahoma but flew to Boston to be with her family, said her mother was loved by everyone she met.

Always “very sweet” and “positive”, she decided around the age of five that she wanted to be a nurse and was steadfast in that commitment until she was flown off the island this month.

“Her contributions to the community from a health perspective have been felt. There are people who just have a knack for caring for people; of knowing what they need and I guess, anticipating their needs. She's like that, not just in her career but in her personal life as well,” Rasheeda said.

“She has been very involved with our church ministry. Wherever my dad is situated she serves faithfully. You just don't hear negative things about her.”

About three weeks before she was admitted to hospital, Mrs Burgess began complaining about being short of breath.

“She was attributing it to other factors, not realising the seriousness of it,” Rasheeda said.

One day she called her mother, just to say hi, and heard her “panting for life”.

Concerned, she then called her father and insisted that he take her to KEMH where medical staff quickly realised how ill she was.

“The way she described it was that people started to come in and prep her as if she was having a heart attack. People rushed in, the nurse who was on call doing triage quickly ran out the room, called whomever she needed to call, and quickly ran mom into the resus room in the ER.”

Mrs Burgess was medevaced to Lahey Hospital & Medical Centre where it was decided more specialist care was needed and she was taken by helicopter to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre.

A message left by Gloria Burgess’s family in her hospital room following her successful heart transplant in the US this week (Photograph supplied)

A series of tests determined Mrs Burgess had a “very rare type of heart disease”.

“What it does, it tends to attack itself. And generally people who have this kind of disease and it's undetected, there's a 100 per cent mortality rate. So mom would have died of heart failure, that would have been definite. And so just moments, seconds of good timing, good judgment and quick response from all people who were involved in her care helped to save her,” Rasheeda said.

“There's no genetic link. There's no onset link. There's nothing that prompts this. It just happens and when it does, it's very aggressive. And so typically, the cardiologist, the doctors, they would point to the few weeks prior as: this is the start of this particular illness. I'm sure if we continue through studies and things like that there'll probably be more data but so far there's nothing linking this to any type of lifestyle or family predisposition or anything like that.”

As Christians, the family believes that prayer and “God's provision over her life” have aided Mrs Burgess’s recovery and put her in the hands of skilled professionals.

“The team has been amazing. They've been taking great care of her,” Rasheeda said.

Her mother was first put on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine as doctors worked out next steps. Various treatments and tests were then tried but, as Mrs Burgess’s heart didn’t respond well to any of them, it was decided a transplant was the best way to save her.

“That was such a blessing. Obviously someone’s family member has to pass on, a person has to pass on, for this donation to happen and so we don't take this lightly. It’s certainly a gift,” Rasheeda said.

“The surgery was very successful. Everything went as planned. The heart is working fine. They were actually able to remove her off of the life support – which is another blessing. They had thought that she would have to have both her heart working and the ECMO continuing to keep her but they were pleased enough to remove that.”

Mrs Burgess will remain at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre until doctors feel she has progressed sufficiently.

“What we do know is that this journey for her is beginning on this side. This is going to be a yearlong process. The initial three months [of care are] needed to make sure that the heart is accepted by her body, making sure that there's no infections, making sure that she's sustaining well, all those pertinent health checks.”

A GoFundMe page has been created in aid of Gloria Burgess, a Nurse of the Year who suffered a serious and sudden heart illness (Photograph supplied)

The family is “blessed” that Mrs Burgess has health insurance. It covered the transplant surgery, the hospital visits, all the necessary testing and a percentage of her medication.

“We're on the hook for the remainder. It's the living expenses, it's making sure we can pay the insurance when she's not working. It's the medication – the part that's not being paid … there's so many other things that we need to take into consideration. We're blessed because the majority of it, insurance is taking care of but other things we're not prepared in the least bit to take care of on our own.”

Her mother has remained “relatively positive” throughout it all, Rasheeda said. The financial and emotional support of family and friends has been a massive help.

“People have shocked us with their support. Just settling with that is giving us hope. We're surprised that her reach is far outside of Bermuda. We have people from all over the US, we have people from the UK, we have people in Africa who have been a part of her journey – whether through her nursing school or connected with her ministry a multitude of different ways – and hearing about this they have poured their love on her,” Rasheeda said.

“I think maybe it's human nature to protect those people who are good in the world.”

Donations in aid of Gloria Burgess can be made via GoFundMe, https://rb.gy/o0c5q0 and by direct deposit into Butterfield Bank account 20 006 060 331 504 200. Cheques and cash can be donated at St Luke AME Church and Bethel AME Church

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Published May 23, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 25, 2024 at 8:25 am)

Burgess family ask for help after life-saving heart transplant

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