David Burns ’98: A year’s journey, a new liver, and a fighting spirit
By Shannon Young ’16
For David Burns ’98, every day is a new opportunity to give back. A husband to Susan and father of two (Andrew, 5, and Eloise, 1), a teacher, and an athlete, Burns considers each day to be “a great day.” While this outlook may be atypical, it is extraordinary for someone who has spent the last eight months recovering from a liver transplant.
In November 2014, Burns was diagnosed with life threatening liver disease. Then in January 2015, he underwent a liver transplant at UCLA and spent the next five months recovering. In what can be described as nothing short of a miracle, Burns not only beat the odds of a five percent chance of survival, but is already working to give back.
On September 20, he is participating in the Liver Life Walk in Los Angeles, where he is currently recovering. Thanks to an incredible combination of luck, skilled doctors, and an available liver from the right donor, Burns is out of the hospital and his wheel chair—walking and even running again.
While at Furman, Burns double majored in history and Asian studies. He took advantage of study away opportunities and went to England and Belgium his sophomore year, then to China his senior year. He also played tennis under the legendary coach Paul Scarpa. Burns still keeps up with old friends from his time at Furman, especially former teammates.
These “lifelong friends” are the kind who would fly out to California to visit him after his surgery, when he was transformed from a healthy marathoner to a man who weighed only 115 pounds.
“I want to give back because of what they’ve done,” Burns says of those people in his life who have been with him throughout the past year—his family and friends who have supported him, and the skilled doctors and medical advancements that allowed him to live his life.
When asked what advice he would give to current students, having once been in their shoes, Burns is adamant. With an all-encompassing, “take care of yourself,” Burns stresses the importance of his story for everyone, regardless of perceived healthy lifestyles. In addition to the detrimental effects that drugs and alcohol have on our organs, Burns cautions against underestimating the effects of everyday medications. “People will take pain relievers while drinking or to cure a hangover without stopping to think how dangerous that can be for your liver. Don’t drink energy drinks in excess, either.”
Now, still recovering, Burns is staying positive. “Every day is a new life and I give back as much as possible. I say yes to everything.” Unable to fly home to his family in New York due to his ongoing recovery, Burns is doing the Liver Life Walk in a team comprised of his parents and two sisters, the “Healthy Hedgehogs.” All donations they raise will go towards the American Liver Foundation, which provides education, support, and money for research in order to aid those affected by liver disease.
In a final footnote, but an extremely important one, Burns stresses the importance of choosing to be an organ donor. “Going to the DMV and having your driver’s license read ‘donor’ will and has saved many lives” — undoubtedly including his.