When historians write of real-life love stories, of how great romances began, they don’t include Drs. Bradley and Abbey Burger, married obstetric-gynecologists with the UNLV School of Medicine.
Sure, it was romantic for Prince Rainier of Monaco to become so smitten with American film star Grace Kelly as he watched her film To Catch a Thief on the French Riviera that he wrote her enough love letters to fill a bank vault. And it’s undoubtedly romantic for June Carter to say to her future husband, Johnny Cash, that “I feel like I know you already” when she first met him backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
But the truth is, the Drs. Burger have a romance with a beginning even more compelling than Roman General Mark Anthony’s request that Cleopatra join him on the coast for, well, a mature meeting. He'd first met her as the young mistress of Caesar.
The Burgers, who now help bring life into the world virtually every day, literally started their love affair as the dead lay all around them. Along with their fellow students, they were performing dissections at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, trying to learn as much as possible about the human body.
“Nothing more romantic than cadavers, I suppose,” said Abbey Burger, a Minnesota native. “I enjoyed the way Brad (he was a teaching assistant as well as a student) taught the anatomy lab.”
No one can accuse the Burgers of not having senses of humor.
“People have fun with how we met — nothing disrespectful,” said Bradley Burger, who was brought up in a small town in Pennsylvania.
The Burgers have a profound respect for those families who donate bodies to science.
“We had very respectful ceremonies to honor those who donate something so important to education,” Bradley Burger said. “It’s important.”
Within a year of meeting, Bradley Burger and Abbey Niedzielski married. Before they left Lewisburg, West Virginia, for their residencies, they helped stabilize an individual who flipped her car in front of them prior to a helicopter rescue. They’ve now been married for nearly a dozen years.
A Long Four Years
Their early marriage, which encompassed their four-year OB-GYN residences, also has a distinctiveness about it. Each ended up doing their graduate medical education in the other’s home state. He went to the University of Minnesota for his OB-GYN residency; she went to the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania for hers. But what was really distinctive is that for four years they saw each other for only two weeks a year.
“We had a real good week every six months, with only two weeks of vacation each year,” Abbey Burger said. “It wasn’t easy always getting the same weeks off. But we always made an effort to speak on the phone.”
While in Minnesota, Bradley Burger got to know his wife’s parents well. Because their home was near the University of Minnesota, he lived in their basement. His parents didn’t live close enough to his wife’s work in Pennsylvania for her to live with them.
When their residencies were completed, they took positions as the OB-GYN specialists in Miles City, Montana, for two years. While the city may have had less than a half dozen stoplights, people in the largely rural state would drive three or four hours for an appointment with the baby doctor or to give birth. It was there that the couple would sometimes receive phone calls for “Dr. Burger” to hurry to the hospital for a birth, only to find out later that the call was for the other Dr. Burger.
“It happened quite a few times that the Dr. Burger who delivered the baby was actually supposed to be the other Dr. Burger,” Bradley Burger recalled.
Today, mix-ups don’t go that far as one Dr. Burger or the other explains to callers how marriage created two OB-GYNs with the same name. “We’re used to it now,” Abbey Burger said.
Currently an OB-GYN hospitalist who sees women in labor as well as emergency cases, Abbey Burger is also studying for her executive master’s in business administration at UNLV. “I’ve found I like understanding the business side of medicine,” she said.
It is not uncommon for the Burgers — they both became part of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the UNLV School of Medicine this year — to have different days off. Or sometimes one will be working days and the other nights. Both say that being married to a doctor with the same specialty means they understand the work requirements, so friction over work demands isn’t there.
A high school baseball star who was offered an athletic scholarship to pitch at St. Mary’s University in Texas, Bradley Burger received coaching from a friend of his father’s, Mike Marshall, who won the National League Cy Young Award in 1974. It was Marshall, Burger said, who got him interested in health and fitness and was a large reason for his going to medical school. Marshall earned his PhD in exercise physiology.
Bradley Burger has never regretted focusing all his energy on becoming a doctor, and more specifically, becoming an OB-GYN.
“I love seeing the joy in families,” he said. “I particularly enjoy delivering a baby on a holiday. It makes the day that much more joyous.”
Abbey Burger is essentially singing from the same medical practice hymnal as her husband.
“Obstetrics is a unique field in medicine where I get to be a part of people’s lives in such a wonderful way. It is always exciting to be trusted by families to help bring new life into the world.”