Today, Ryerson Burdick is a healthy, energetic 7-year-old who loves math and playing with his friends. But when Ryerson was born more than 3 months early at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, he weighed just 2 pounds 4 ounces, and every day was a roller coaster of ups and downs for the premature infant and his parents, Robert and Becki. Thanks to the sophisticated and compassionate care provided by Mercy’s neonatology specialists, Ryerson gained strength and pounds. After 10 weeks in Mercy’s Special Care Nursery, Ryerson was able to go home with his parents. Although that was seven years ago and the Burdicks now live in New York, the family feels as connected to the hospital as ever. In fact, over the years Robert has become one of Mercy's most active and dedicated fundraisers, helping to raise over half a million dollars for the Mercy Special Care Nursery. “They saved my son’s life,” Robert says simply. “So what I do is really miniscule in the whole scheme of things.”
Deciding To Make a Difference
The cost of providing health care has risen dramatically in recent years. In order to continue to meet the needs of the community and fulfill the mission the Sisters of Mercy brought to Chicago more than 155 years ago, Mercy relies on philanthropic support and the donations of generous individuals and corporations. Contributions to Mercy Hospital & Medical Center through the Mercy Foundation help support treatment programs, capital improvements and medical education, and permit the purchase of sophisticated equipment. As a result of Robert’s fundraising efforts, the hospital has been able to purchase several such pieces of equipment for the Special Care Nursery.
Like many premature babies, Ryerson had difficulty breathing when he was first born. Because his lungs weren’t fully developed, it was hard for them to expand and stay expanded, explains Rohitkumar Vasa, MD, medical director of the Special Care Nursery. “Very early babies, like Ryerson, also face challenges because their bodies sometimes forget to breathe,” Dr. Vasa says. “When infants don’t breathe regularly, they don’t get enough oxygen into their bloodstream and their heart rate can drop.”
To help babies breathe, the Special Care Nursery relies on a state-of-the-art ventilator system. And whenever possible, the nursery utilizes advanced assisted-breathing devices and techniques that are gentler on babies with respiratory distress. Ryerson was one such baby, and when he was born, Mercy utilized a sophisticated assisted-breathing device called a high-frequency oscillator. At the time, it was one of the most state-of-the-art pieces of equipment available. While most ventilators help babies breathe at a regular rate (40 to 60 breaths a minute), an oscillator helps the baby take hundreds of short breaths every minute. This helps the lungs get the most amount of oxygen with the least amount of pressure.
Ryerson was placed on Mercy’s lone oscillator soon after he was born. It helped him through those crucial first days and allowed him to breathe normally until his lungs were mature enough to do the job on their own. But the fact that Mercy had just one oscillator stuck with Robert long after Ryerson was released from the hospital. In fact, it became the impetus for his fundraising activity.
“This was a very sophisticated piece of equipment and we were fortunate we even had access to it,” Robert says. “But Mercy only had one at the time. What if someone else had been on it when my son was born? My son might not have made it. Knowing that, I decided to raise some money to get them another oscillator.”
Honoring Those Who Cared
Robert’s done that, and much more through his Investment Professionals for Children’s Charities. Over the past seven years, the group’s annual golf outing has raised more than $1.4 million for children’s charities, with Mercy’s Special Care Nursery receiving a majority of the funds raised.
Robert has also raised funds for Mercy through something called Miracle Day, an event organized by the trading firm CIBC Oppenheimer. For one day in December, CIBC Oppenheimer employees donate all fees and commissions earned on that day’s trading activity to children’s charities. Participating financial institutions, like Robert’s employer Pequot Capital Management, name the charity they wish to benefit. Over the past four years, Miracle Day trading by Robert and his employers has generated nearly $200,000 for Mercy’s Special Care Nursery.
Robert says the goal of his various fundraising activities is to help Mercy maintain its high-level care and services; but it’s also a way to show his gratitude to the doctors and nurses of the Special Care Nursery. Everyone from Dr. Vasa to the overnight nurses provided unwavering emotional support, Robert says, and helped he and his wife through a very stressful time. In fact, when Robert first met Dr. Vasa, he was considering transferring Ryerson to another hospital. But upon meeting Dr. Vasa, he says his concerns were immediately put to rest. “Dr. Vasa walked in and was such a calming presence. He talked me off a ledge” he says. “The best decision I ever made was to keep my son at Mercy.”
Throughout Ryerson’s hospital stay in the hospital, Dr. Vasa and the other neonatology specialists took the time to explain—in easy-to-understand-terms—the medical care, why they were doing what they were doing and what the consequences might be, Robert says. The tender touch of the hospital’s nursing staff also made an impact on the Burdicks. “My wife was in the nursery every day for 14 to 16 hours a day over the course of the 10 weeks,” Robert says. “When you sit there all day, you see how much the nurses care for these babies. It’s very genuine, and they’re amazing.”