Colleagues, patients remember Dr. Jim Burns

On the Fourth of July, while communities across the United States celebrated the birth of our nation with fireworks and barbecues, Dr. Jim Burns quietly lost his battle with cancer, at home and surrounded by those he loved most.

He was by all accounts a most unusual breed of doctor, multi-talented both professionally and personally.

“He was one of the best doctors I ever met,” said Robin Bennett, a licensed practical nurse who worked with Burns nearly 20 years, first in private practice and later at Peninsula Regional Medical Center, where he led the Occupational Health Services division and most recently, the Wound & Hyperbaric Center, where he reported for work just weeks ago.

Warner Crumb, Executive Director of Orthopaedics and Neurosciences at PRMC, saw Burns the morning he died.

“Dr. Burns was a selfless leader,” Crumb said. “He always put his team and his patients first. He told me that morning, his last day on Earth, that he was concerned about letting his patients and staff down because he was unable to continue doing the job he loved so much.” 

Crumb said he was shocked to see Burns go downhill so fast.

“He was in the clinic working just two weeks before he died,” Crumb said.

Beth Reid, Program Director at the Wound Center, had worked closely with Burns since 2014, when she came onboard at the center. She recalls not only his selfless dedication but a really fun guy who loved engaging in pranks and Nerf gun battles with staff — just out of the sight and hearing of patients at the clinic.

“He was a total prankster,” said Reid, “who was ‘harassed’ by staffers because it was so much fun, and he would prank them back at the first opportunity.”

Becky Ruark, who also works in the center, described one of Burns’ birthdays when staff members filled his office with balloons, and a Halloween when his team filled his office with balloons, decorative cobwebs and plastic spiders that would rain down on anyone who opened his door and brushed aside the cobwebs.

“He was just a lot of fun to work with,” said Reid.

He is also credited with helping the center receive a coveted national award for clinical excellence.

The National Center of Distinction Award was bestowed by Healogics, the nation’s largest provider of advanced wound care services according to a press release announcing the award. Burns is quoted in the announcement, released just weeks before his death and dated June 10.

“I am especially proud of the team for their dedication to excellence,” Burns said in the quote, typically focusing on others rather than himself.

Burns had a way with patients as well, an uncanny ability to gain and keep their trust.

One of those patients is Beverley Stoakley, Lifeline manager at PRMC and a for eight years a patient of Burns while he was in private practice at Main Street MedCenter.

“His bedside manner was great,” said Stoakley. “It was like you were talking to a friend. I suffer from ‘white-coat syndrome,’ my blood pressure shoots up when I’m in a doctor’s office. The first time I saw him, I told him about my phobia and he immediately took off his white coat and laid it across a chair. He then said to me, ‘now what’s your excuse?’ I will never forget that.”

Stoakley and Burns shared a passion for skydiving, she said, and frequently enjoyed conversations about it, although she said her experience with skydiving took place long before she knew Burns, and she never took him up on his offers to accompany him.

Roger Follebout, community relations director for Peninsula Regional Health System, called  Burns “a PR guy’s dream” who was knowledgeable about many aspects of the medical profession and always willing to speak to media when asked.

“He was like a jack of all trades for the medical profession,” Follebout said.

 Burns’ death leaves a void in the health care community among patients and colleagues alike.

“He was an awesome friend and doctor,” said Bennett, “and he will be greatly missed for sure.”

“Dr. Burns left a legacy that will never be forgotten,” said Stoakley.

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