From patient to vaccinator: A doctor’s journey through COVID-19

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As hospitals fill up, the push to get people vaccinated has taken on even greater importance. 

Dr. Dave Burkard has seen the lows of being hospitalized with the virus and the hope brought forth through vaccinations.

Burkard, a 28-year-old emergency medicine resident at Spectrum Health, has treated patients, become one himself and, now, he’s on the frontlines of the vaccination effort, volunteering his time at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at DeVos Place. 

“The excitement at DeVos Place, where we’re giving the vaccine, is so real and so fun to be a part of that,” Burkard said. “It’s definitely the most exciting portion of this journey so far.”

It’s a journey that Burkard says is unfortunately far from over.

“I think a lot of people think this is over. You know? The vaccine is here, our numbers are going down, but it’s not over. It’s actually getting a lot worse right now,” Burkard said. “I think my experience both as a patient and as a physician really drive me to say, get the vaccine, you know, I can look at the studies and say, this is safe, this is effective, but the vaccine is only as effective as the number of people who get it.”

Hospitals are filling up again as cases spike throughout our state, all the while thousands of Michiganders are becoming fully vaccinated. The light at the end of the tunnel is there, but Burkard says things will continue to get worse before they get better. 

“We’ve seen people from 10 to 15 years old who have lost limbs or lost their lives in Grand Rapids, and we’ve had people all the way up the ladder you know? It’s hitting everyone,” Burkard said. “The vaccine is so exciting though because for the first time I’m seeing healthy patients that are just excited and there’s so much hope of returning to some sort of normal; a life without COVID-19.”

Burkard at Warner Camp pre COVID-19 in Grand Junction, Mich. (courtesy)

As summer approaches, Burkard is reminded of fun times spent as the chairman of the Board of Directors at Warner Camp near Grand Junction. Those times have been stolen from him by the pandemic.

“There is nothing that I want more than just to be able to have a normal summer of summer camp where kids can come and have fun and be themselves, especially right now in the middle of everything that’s been crazy and been taken away from kids, to have a normal summer would be pretty awesome at this point,” Burkard said. “Everyone out there has things in their lives that have shut down because this pandemic and the solution to that is the vaccine.”

News 8 spoke with Burkard last November, when he was recovering from his own battle with the virus.

“I worked 24-hour shifts in the hospital where I wear a mask for 24 hours straight. They’re annoying, but if wearing that mask can save one life, it’s worth it,” Burkard told News 8 at the time.

Now he offers a similar message: get vaccinated. 

“It’s what we have to do in order to get to the next step of returning to some sort of normal,” Burkard said. “You know, I’ve seen firsthand patients who sit in their hospital bed, struggling, gasping for air, and the first thought they have is, why didn’t I get vaccinated? And it doesn’t matter whether you’re 20 years old or whether you’re 80 years old, like that’s a real thing that could happen to you.”

The journey may be far from over, but Burkard says knowing what waits for us all on the other side of the pandemic makes the struggles we all face today worth it. 

“Everyone out there has things in their lives that have shut down because this pandemic and the solution to that is the vaccine,” Burkard said. “There is so much that is waiting for us not the other end of this vaccine.”

Vaccinations in Michigan have been opened up to everyone 16 years old and up. You can schedule an appointment now; go to VaccinateWestMI.com to get started.

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