TLC: Tough Learning Curve?
October 17, 2008
Eileen Burke understands the health care industry from the inside and out. She’s been a nurse and physician’s assistant; she’s also experienced a serious accident and had to see numerous doctors.
Because of her experiences, Burke started getting requests for help from people, sometimes strangers, ignorant of the industry but forced to undergo treatments for illnesses and injuries.
She began to see a need in the area for a person to be a liaison, consultant and patient advocate to help people understand what’s happening to them and why doctors do what they do.
To fill that need, Burke started Health Resolutions.
Barbara Woodbury of Park City was referred to Burke by a friend after she kept having recurring problems with brain tumors.
"We had nobody helping us out trying to figure out how to get past all the obstacles," she said. "She was a great help in giving me an idea of what to expect when going through this."
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For example, doctors prescribe long lists of medicines, but nobody explained to her how they would make her feel, she said.
"There are just things you don’t know because people don’t think to tell you," she said. "She was really good at explaining the processes and being there to help out."
Woodbury also said Burke was good at helping her devise strategies for the future so that when surprises arose, like a return of the tumor, there was a prepared plan of attack.
Burke’s experience in the health care industry started in the 1980s, when she became a paramedic and firefighter at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
She’d grown up around the space program and wanted to participate in it as a medical worker. Becoming a paramedic also required training in fire fighting, she said. She thinks she might have been the first women ever on the squad.
She worked with astronauts and traveled to Africa with NASA for trainings.
But her desire to become a caregiver led her back to school. She became a registered nurse working in hospitals. After moving to Utah with her family in the 1990s, she got a job as a ski nurse on the slopes of Deer Valley and The Canyons. The ski nurse job introduced her to flight nurses, and she knew she wanted to become one of those.
"I’ve always preferred to be out of the hospital and the being-in-the-field kind of thing," she said.
Again combining flight and health care, Burke was working in Southern Utah when one day her helicopter crashed near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Her injuries were serious and she was never able to stay focused in a helicopter again.
"With the accident, I was tossed into the medical gauntlet, going from doctor to doctor, each taking care of different parts but nobody talking to each other, and it feels like nobody’s listening to you," she said.
Burke said the experience changed the way she viewed patients and their experiences.
Needing a new career, Burke said she had always been impressed with the physician’s assistants she’d met as a rural flight nurse. They would be all alone in small communities providing primary care. She went back to school again.
"They were out there on their own doing a lot of hands-on medicine, the right choice for me definitely. I’m used to working where everything is kind of crazy, so it worked out better for me," she said.
As more people found out about her experiences as a patient and provider, they began referring friends to her who were confused about what they were going through. She decided to make it her business.
"I thought, if I was doing it that often there must have been a need for it," she said. "And I’ve been there."
She chose Park City because it’s where she’s worked as a caregiver for the last several years. She said she knows the physicians up here and understands the medical community.
Burke said when she’s contacted by a new client she goes through step-by-step what the ailment is, how to interpret lab results, how they should expect to feel during treatments and how to prepare for the doctor visits.
"I empower them with a voice in their own care," she said.
She said her purpose is to be a complement to the doctors and not an interference as she helps patients.
Sometimes, she said, her main job is to assist the relative providing care and support at home. People are sometimes thrust into the position of providing care without any experience or preparation just because a loved one needs help.
Julie Gormley, a Colorado resident, said in a telephone interview she’d never heard of what Burke does before meeting her, and that she’s been a great help in dealing with skin cancer.
"She’s been reassuring in getting through all the doctor visits, in the decisions to make and in understanding all the things thrown at you," she said.
Gormley said she’d always been a healthy person before her diagnosis and that nobody in her friend group and family had any helpful experience with doctors and clinics.
"It was very helpful just to be pointed in the right direction, to have a third party to tell you things objectively and different from your doctor," she said.