Northern Ireland

Woman who took on hike two months after brain haemorrhage hands medal to surgeon

Bernie Burke, 61, who completed a Macmillan Mighty Hike two months after a brain haemorrhage, handed her medal to surgeon Helen Raffalli-Ebezant (Macmillan Cancer Support/PA)
Bernie Burke, 61, who completed a Macmillan Mighty Hike two months after a brain haemorrhage, handed her medal to surgeon Helen Raffalli-Ebezant (Macmillan Cancer Support/PA)

A woman who took on a memorial hike eight weeks after suffering a brain haemorrhage has given her medal to the neurosurgeon who saved her life.

Bernie Burke, 61, was two months away from walking the Giant’s Causeway Macmillan Mighty Hike to mark the first anniversary of her brother Anthony Larkin’s death from lung cancer when she suffered the subarachnoid haemorrhage in April.

After going to hospital with a piercing headache and nausea, Mrs Burke was rushed to Salford Royal and, when an emergency operation to reach the artery through her groin failed, was told she needed immediate brain surgery.

The operation was carried out by neurosurgeon Helen Raffalli-Ebezant, who came in on her day off to carry out the procedure to insert a clamp across the artery in Mrs Burke’s brain.

Mrs Burke, a finance specialist from Standish, Wigan, spent three weeks in intensive care after the operation, but was determined to recover in time for the hike to raise funds in memory of her brother, who was 57 when he died.

She said: “I told her and all the doctors and nurses I had to get through it because I had the Mighty Hike to do for Ant in Northern Ireland at the end of June. They listened but they kept telling me what a major operation I’d had and how recovery would be very slow and very hard.”

She completed the 26-mile walk with son Sean, 34, and handed her medal to Ms Raffalli-Ebezant afterwards.

Ms Burke said: “I was so incredibly lucky. I call myself the ‘walking miracle’. Helen’s skill and her professionalism and kindness saved my life without a doubt.

“I do owe her everything and it was my absolute privilege to give her my Macmillan Mighty Hike medal.”

“I’m indebted to her for life. I’ll never ever forget what Helen did for me. It’s a privilege to still be here. I’m blessed to be here.”

Ms Raffalli-Ebezant said she was “overwhelmed” to receive the medal from her patient.

She said: “It’s a very difficult thing to recover from a subarachnoid haemorrhage. You’re very tired. You’re very achy, so to be able to go out there and walk that whole marathon is such an achievement. And it’s Bernie’s achievement.

“I just came in and did my job. It was Bernie who took her recovery in her own hands and really ran with it and it was very inspirational for me to see that Bernie had been able to do that.

“I have the Mighty Hike medal on my desk. It inspires me – and our trainees who see it and I tell them about Bernie.

“It shows us that our work, while sometimes ending in sadness, can result in the most positive of outcomes for our patients.”

Ms Burke’s son Sean, who completed the walk with her, said: “Crossing the marathon finish line in Belfast arm-in-arm with my mum was a special moment.

“I was so proud she did it against all odds, and made it look easy.”

To find out more about Macmillan Mighty Hikes go to mightyhikes.macmillan.org.uk.