Remembering Dr. Burke, My Life-Saver

February 13, 2012

In August of 1985, I was putting gasoline into my boat at our summer place on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.  I turned on the ignition switch to check the gas level, when I heard an explosion.  The gas fumes had gathered around me as I stood on the deck and exploded with a spark from the switch.  I was engulfed with flames.  I went to the local hospital and was soon taken by helicopter to the Burn Unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

John "Jack" Burke MD

I was met by Dr. Jack Burke who was chief of trauma and head of the Burn Unit at MGH.  He cared for me for 16 days.  Dr. Burke passed away in early November at the age of 89.  He saved my life.  When I was admitted to the hospital, I was diagnosed with third degree burns on my hands and legs.  I underwent several hours of surgery.  Dr. Burke took skin from my thigh and grafted the back of my legs and my hands.  I learned that when your hands are burned, they curl up and become claw-like. 

To prevent this and to keep my hands flat after surgery, Dr. Burke used super glue to attach hooks from a lady’s dress to my fingernails.  He then used ping pong paddles with dress hooks at the top.  Then, he stretched my hands flat across the paddles and used rubber bands to attach the hooks on my fingers to the hooks on the paddles.  My hands were stretched flat on the paddles so they wouldn’t curl up.  I had paddles for hands for over a week in the hospital.  Today, my hands are scarred from the burns but they are totally functional.  No claws. Dr. John "Jack" Burke

As I was cared for by Dr. Burke, I learned using paddles to heal burned hands was not his only creation.  The New York Times reported that together with Dr. Ioannis V. Yannas, a professor of fibers and polymers in MIT’s department of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Burke created artificial skin. 

Over 11 years, these two men led a team that developed a material of amalgam of plastics, cow tissue and shark cartilage that became the first commercially reproducible, synthetic human skin.  It would save the lives of innumerable, severely burned people worldwide.

Dr. Burke served in World War II as a fighter pilot in the Italian Campaign and I once persuaded him to tell me about his encounters with German Messerschmitts over Italy.

I will miss my friend and doctor, Jack Burke.  He was a great blessing in my life. 

I’m Bill Marriott and thank you for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

Listen to blog Dr. Burke



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I'm french...nobody is perfect!!!I'm also marriott owner(4 weeks) and happy to be so.If you are interested to develop a new resort in a dreamy location of 900.000sqm I
will help you because you're the best.

Mr. Marriott, what an amazing story. I feel compelled to tell you my story. I work at the Boston Norwood Courtyard. On November 2, 2010 I was driving to open our new Bistro and I was in a major car accident. I was very badly injured and I remained in the hospital for several months. The staff at my hotel and so many others, went above and beyond during my time of need. They donated their paid time off so I would get paid while I was out, also they arranged to donate toys or money for the staff at my hotel to buy toys for my 3 children who had to cope with having me, a single mother, in the hospital for Christmas that year. I have since gone back to work and am still recovering. I LOVE my Marriott family and plan to work for this company for the rest of my working life.
Thank you for all you do and all you share.

I am sad to hear such a talented mind has left us. His legacy will live on in part thanks to you, Mr. Marriott, who is a walking example of the skill he possessed. Thank you for sharing such a touching story.

What a touching, and heartfelt tribute to an amazing person. Thank you for sharing your story, Bill.

It just goes to show that we all depend upon one another in this world, and it's comforting to know someone's always going to be there to lend a hand when we need it most.

I believe in a compassionate society, and I'm lucky to be in a country with universal healthcare, something I strongly believe in, because when a tragedy or crisis strikes, what matters most is knowing we'll receive professional and immediate treatment - no exceptions, no conditions, no price-tag attached.

I'm just glad you survived that ordeal, and were treated so well. I would never have known you had such a terrible accident without your telling us - a lasting tribute to the quality of your doctor's work.

All the best,

Beautiful and inspiring story.

I'm sorry for your loss, but know that we are all thankful for his helping you, and you being able to share this story with us. Truly inspirational!

Mr Marriott, it's an inspirational story in all ways. Needless-to-say,Dr. Burke is a true hero to you and many others.

Thank you.

Hello Mr. Marriott,

Very glad you recovered. General Chuck Yeager celebrated his 89th birthday yesterday. He also had some serious burns from the rocket seat hitting his face mask after he ejected from the NF-104.
He also was a fighter pilot in World War II. We are going to film him telling his stories re being shot down, working with the Maquis and French Underground, then escaping over the Pyrenees carrying a wounded US airman.
We hope you'all can help your friend, General Chuck Yeager.

On this, Happy Hearts Day, what a wonderful, touching read of an emotipnally touching incident and human relationship. What remarkable talent, skill, and outcome.

Fantastic story! I cannot imagine what you went through in that time of need but, the miracles that occur are just remarkable in itself. Especially meeting someone like Dr. Burke! Wow!


My brother and I were severely burned by a boat fire (gasoline) In the bildge and all over. We were burned nearly 90 pcnt both of is wit.second and Burns
Some very brave ppl came to help from the start we were taken to the first burn umit in Miami_ it not only saved our lives, but out also allows to have fully functioning limbs, parts... The peple wete brave and wete solid in there goal to treat us!

Thank you for the research, for brave and smart and carrying people who help to make great things happen....

Thank you for sharing this significant part of your life Mr Marriott. You continue to inspire us as you remind us to look back at our experiences and celebrate those who have made a difference in our lives. Thank you for sharing the accomplishments of Dr Burke. Your blogs are heartfelt and do not come across as corporate speak. More power, good health, continued joy and blessings.
Always, Therese Necio-Ortega

WOW -- I have shaken your hand before and had no idea that this had ever occurred. Even in difficult situations hospitals provide great service, amazing attitudes and awesome teamwork that leaves a lasting impression. Thanks to Dr. Burke and his team

Thank you for sharing

Thank you for sharing this moving story about hero in your life. I am sure that he will never be forgotten and often missed. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

I remember working at the NY Marquis when this happened!

At that time I was General Manager of Marriott's oldest continually operated hotel, Key Bridge Marriott across from Georgetown. When news of this accident spread as fast as fire throughout the company,our concern was for immediate healing so Bill could get back on his inspections, challenges, and corporate leadership. I never worked as hard in my life as the 20 challenging years I enjoyed under his guidance but I knew he was outperforming each of us and wouldn't ask us to do more thn he was prepared to take on. No one could ask for a better role model. It's no wonder Bill like and appreciated this doctor as the doctor paid particular attention to minute details, not just the major issues.Marriott does it right.

Mr. Marriott

What a wonderful story. I would like to republish to our blog.