Mar 14, 2024 Giving Back: Parents Support Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to Thank Team for Saving Son’s Life After Severe Brain Injury

Ankur Patel

(New Brunswick, NJ) – Skill, knowledge and unwavering compassion are all hallmarks of nursing practice at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH). RWJUH Nurse Ankur Patel, RN, was the living definition of these values when the Burns family needed him most following their son’s nearly fatal accident more than five years ago.

Dale and Theresa Burns sent their teenage son, Dale, off to begin his sophomore year at Rutgers University in September 2018. A day after their son’s arrival on campus, he fell down a flight of stairs, suffering a traumatic brain injury. Their son lay unconscious on a New Brunswick sidewalk, his brain swelling and bleeding for nearly four hours before a Good Samaritan found him, called police and first responders rushed him to Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Doctors there determined that the Burns’ son required a higher level of care and he was transferred to RWJUH’s Level I Trauma Center, one of only three designated as such by the state.

Nothing could have prepared the Burns for the sight they encountered at RWJUH. Their son was unconscious, had signs of head trauma and was intubated to help him breathe. He was transferred from the Emergency Department to RWJUH’s highly specialized Neurocritical Care Unit.

There the Burns met Ankur, who they believe was instrumental in saving their son’s life. Ankur was very concerned about Dale’s responses to the motor skills assessments. Ankur increased the assessments to 15-minute intervals. Ankur knew Dale was taking a turn for the worse and immediately called the neurologist. He refused to leave Dale’s bedside.

Although that night occurred almost six years ago, Ankur does remember being concerned enough to stay by Dale and perform the assessments more frequently than normal. To conduct his assessments, Ankur used the standard National Institute of Health Stroke Assessment Scale.

“It can really be applied to any Neuro case,” Ankur explained. “It’s not standard practice but something caught my eye. With neuro or brain injury patients it’s important to pick up even subtle changes in a patient’s condition because it can deteriorate quickly from there. If a brain bleed is happening, you may only have minutes to intervene.”

To this day, Ankur remembers that it struck him how young his patient was and that he wanted to do everything he could to get Dale through his crisis.

“I remember thinking that this kid has so much to offer and he hasn’t had a chance yet – it’s not fair,” Ankur explained.

Mr. & Mrs. Burns were told Dale may need brain surgery to save his life. But first, the neurology team initiated a hypertonic saline treatment designed to absorb and dry the fluid causing the brain to swell. Thanks in large part to Ankur’s thoroughness, and compassionate care, Dale pulled through his worst moment. The saline treatment worked, the brain swelling subsided and Dale regained consciousness. Dale remained at RWJUH for 8 days.

He needed intense rehabilitation to recover his memory and cognitive functions. Dale was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation facility where he remained for two weeks followed by three months of outpatient rehabilitation.

The Burns Family

Dale returned to Rutgers for the spring semester of his sophomore year. Doctors advised him to take only one, but no more than two classes; but Dale was determined. He took four classes and continued to accelerate his course load. Dale’s GPA increased. He earned three 3.9’s and a 4.0 during his final semester and graduated Rutgers on time with his classmates. The Burns credit Rutgers University Dean Jeff Broggi and the academic support team there with helping Dale complete the necessary paperwork so he could withdraw and re-enroll successfully after his recovery.

Because he always enjoyed working with his hands, Dale is now following in his father’s footsteps and is completing a Steamfitters Union pipefitting apprenticeship while working in that field.

On that terrible evening in 2018, Ankur provided hope to a family desperately in need. The Burns family was so inspired by Ankur’s actions and the care he provided, they made a generous donation to support RWJUH.

“There is no way we can repay what everyone did for our son, but we felt we needed to give back in some way to show our gratitude,” Dale Sr. said.

Theresa added, “I am so moved by everyone we came into contact with. Everyone from the Good Samaritan who found Dale, the police, first responders, the entire Neurocritical Care Unit staff and the Environmental Services team on the unit – we are eternally grateful.”

Ankur has since transferred to RWJUH’s Rapid Response Team and is applying to the hospital’s Advanced Practice Provider Fellowship Program. He has seen a lot during his career, having worked as a paramedic/EMT, Emergency Medicine nurse and later as a nurse on RWJUH’s Neurocritical Care Unit. But he still can’t believe that the Burns remember him six years later.

“This may be one of the best things that has happened to me in health care,” Ankur said. “It’s touching that six years later this family still remembers me.”

To learn more on how to recognize a clinician while supporting advanced patient care, contact the RWJ University Hospital Foundation at 732.937.8750 or visit

About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) New Brunswick, an RWJBarnabas Health Facility, is a 628-bed academic medical center that is New Jersey’s largest academic medical center through its deep partnership with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. RWJUH is the flagship Cancer Hospital of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, a nationally-ranked 2023-24 Best Children’s Hospital by U.S. News & World Report. Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, orthopedics, bariatric surgery and women’s health. A Level 1 Trauma Center and the first designated Pediatric Trauma Center in the state, RWJUH’s New Brunswick campus serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness.

RWJUH has earned significant national recognition for clinical quality and patient safety, including the prestigious Magnet® Recognition for Nursing Excellence and being named to Newsweek’s 2023 list of Best Ambulatory Surgery Centers. The RWJUH Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center has been recognized by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association as meeting The Joint Commission's standards for Disease-Specific Care Comprehensive Stroke Center Advanced Certification. RWJUH has also earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Disease-Specific Care Certification for Spine Surgery; The Joint Commission Gold Seal Certification for Bariatric Services; and The Joint Commission Gold Seal Certification for Hip and Knee Replacement services. The Joint Commission also awarded RWJUH a Gold Seal Certification as well as an Advanced Certification in Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) Implantation.

Contact: Peter Haigney
RWJUH Public Relations
(732) 937-8568