David Burkard, MD, walked through the doors of Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital ready for work and eager to put COVID-19—and his 15 minutes of fame—behind him.
As he returns to his job caring for patients and saving lives, Dr. Burkard just hopes his now-viral Facebook post will inspire some folks to take precautions that protect themselves and others from the coronavirus.
“If just one additional person takes it seriously because of my message, then we have done our part,” he said.
Dr. Burkard, a Spectrum Health emergency medicine resident, had no idea his Facebook post about his experience with the COVID-19 virus would have an impact nationwide—and even internationally.
He just hoped to reach a few friends and family members with his message.
Working in the Butterworth Hospital emergency department, he has witnessed the terrible toll the contagious illness can take.
He has cared for patients gasping for breath. He has watched people say goodbye to their loved ones for the last time.
Still, he did not expect the disease would hit him so hard. A healthy 28-year-old who runs 5 miles a day and manages a demanding, physical job, he was not considered high risk.
The illness hit suddenly on the morning of Nov. 5. He woke up with a fever, cough, fatigue and body aches.
He let the medical team at the emergency department know he couldn’t come into work.
He tested positive for COVID-19 and began to quarantine in his apartment.
His health improved for a few days, and then abruptly began to decline.
“On day 6, it was like all bets were off,” Dr. Burkard said. “I was short of breath—really winded when I got up and walked around.”
He got a home monitor that showed the oxygen saturation in his blood. Normal oxygen levels typically are over 95%.
His measured in the low-90s at first. It dropped that evening into the mid-80s.
The next day, on Nov. 13, he arrived at the Butterworth Hospital emergency department.
As a resident physician, he had walked through those doors many times. This was the first time as a patient.
As he arrived, a triage nurse told him, “You don’t look so good.”
His colleagues admitted him to the hospital with a low blood oxygen level and high heart rate. He began to receive treatments, including convalescent plasma therapy and Remdesivir.
From his hospital bed, Dr. Burkard created his now-viral Facebook post, sharing his experience. He urged others to wear a mask and do what they can to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“Think about the families who want to be with their loved ones while they’re sick but can’t,” he wrote. “Think about how silly it sounds to complain about a mask when there are people literally gasping for air. It is up to all of us to stop the spread of COVID.
“It does not just affect the old and frail; it affects all of us and we are all at risk for getting sick.”
He spent three days in the hospital. Then, he recovered at home.
He returned to work Nov. 20, three weeks after he became ill.
Dr. Burkard maintained a positive outlook during his illness, though he admits he felt scared.
“I wasn’t as nervous about dying as much as I was about not recovering well,” he said.
That still is a concern. He continues to get winded easily and is working to rebuild his strength and endurance.
He wants to return to the active life he has enjoyed—running and playing volleyball.
In addition to his work in medicine, Dr. Burkard serves as chairman of the board of directors at Warner Camp and directs a summer camp every year.
‘One of the heroes’
As Dr. Burkard’s Facebook post drew nearly 1,500 comments and 7,600 shares, local and national news outlets shared his story.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed his experience during a press conference Nov. 19, praising him as “one of the heroes that has stayed on the front line of this crisis.”
He received some angry messages from people questioning his story. And he received many more kind comments. Some said they prayed for his recovery. Others said they will take the virus more seriously.
The responses and attention are a bit overwhelming.
“This isn’t my thing,” he said. “I’m not a media guy.”
But he has no regrets about going public with his experience. He just hopes he can encourage others to stay safe and curb transmission of the virus.
Research shows the value of wearing face masks, he said. Studies show areas with mask mandates have lower rates of COVID-19 illnesses.
“Wear a mask. Social distance. Wash your hands,” he said. “Cancel that get-together with friends. Hang out on Zoom and FaceTime. Take this seriously.”
‘Everyone is at risk’
During his illness, Dr. Burkard remained isolated. But he received lots of texts, meals and support from family, friends and team members in the emergency department.
“Dave is beloved by our program,” said Matthew Singh, MD, the associate program director for the Spectrum Health-Michigan State University emergency medicine residency. “Everyone knows him, and he always seems to elevate his co-workers, his team and his co-residents.
“It was definitely good news to see him easing back into work.”
Dr. Burkard’s experience with COVID-19 shows that it’s hard to predict who will suffer serious issues with the illness, he said.
“The bottom line is no matter how old you are or how healthy you are, everyone is at risk at some level,” Dr. Singh said. “It just emphasizes how important it is to take this seriously and to listen to his message.”