The day before her life was tragically cut short, Dr. Sherilyn Gordon-Burroughs sat outdoors with her mom talking about the new group of residents chosen last week to receive their surgical training at Houston Methodist Hospital.
The surgical residents were “the babies” of Gordon-Burroughs, a prominent transplant surgeon and director of the hospital’s general surgery training program for new doctors who’d just finished their four years of medical school. She became close to each one, from their first day at Methodist to their next job.
“She was their role model, their source of encouragement,” said Shirley Gordon, her mom. “That wasn’t there for her class when she was a medical student. She wanted to change that.”
Gordon-Burroughs’ star was still rising, one of only a handful of black female surgeons in the nation, when she died over the weekend at 48, the apparent victim of a murder-suicide involving her husband. A SWAT team found her dead in the family’s Richmond home, after her husband Daniel Burroughs, 60, took his life at the conclusion of a five-hour SWAT team stand-off on Sunday.
No motive is known at this time, said the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the deaths.
Details about the deaths were still lacking Monday. According to a sheriff’s office news release, county officials determined they needed to visit the home near the Brazos River in central Fort Bend County after a family member requested they check on the welfare of Gordon-Burroughs.
A SWAT team was dispatched when Burroughs would not provide information about his wife’s whereabouts.
The couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Jasmine, was with her grandparents, the Gordons, at the time.
Gordon, devastated, said she had no idea what might have triggered the events. She said she did not know of any marital strife and always had a high regard for Burroughs, a semi-retired financial planner and golf pro she described as “calm and “level-headed, at least on the outside.” Choking up, she said, “I wish he had given my child a break, hadn’t taken her away from us.”
The news shocked colleagues at Methodist and many surgical counterparts nationally. Dr. Barbara Bass, Gordon-Burroughs’ department chair, said on Monday “probably 400 people came together during a number of group sessions the hospital held for people trying to understand and remember the good things.” Dr. Patricia Turner, director of member services for the American College of Surgeons, said there was a moment of silence Monday at an annual meeting of the surgical society of Howard University, where Gordon-Burroughs graduated and later did her general surgery training. One speaker broke down.
Methodist President Dr. Marc Boom reported the news to Methodist employees Monday morning in an email that called for a celebration of her life and many accomplishments.
“She was incredibly passionate about medical education and training,” wrote Boom, calling Gordon-Burroughs “a gifted surgeon.” “She was a cornerstone of our graduate medical education program, always going above and beyond for the residents. Sherilyn made a significant and lasting impact on Houston Methodist and will be sorely missed.”
She was one of the surgeons who took part last summer in Methodist’s kidney transplant chain, in which six patients received donor organs. Such chains involve donors whose organ is not compatible with a family member or friend in need giving instead to a stranger instead, triggering a chain of such transfers.
Bass said Gordon-Burroughs, a liver transplant specialist, generally blazed a trail.
“No question about it, she was a pioneer,” said Bass. “There were probably a few white female surgeons like me in my generation. She was part of the next generation, one of just a handful of African-American surgeons who ran the gauntlet. She hopped over every bar put before her with grace and optimism. That was her key to success.”
Gordon-Burroughs grew up in Missouri, a precocious child who would try to read her microbiologist father’s academic papers when she was a little girl, recalled Gordon. “He was finishing his master’s program and she loved to climb on the bed and start reading his articles. She was very curious, very interested in science.”
She attended Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and completed a research fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and then a clinical fellowship in multi-organ transplantation at UCLA, the nation’s premier program. Recruited by Bass, she joined Methodist in 2009.
In addition to serving as director of Methodist’s general surgery residency program, Gordon-Burroughs was the hospital’s Designated Institutional Official, responsible for overseeing all 40 of its residency programs. She also held leadership roles with the American College of Surgeons and American Society of Transplant Surgeons.
“It wasn’t just that she was a role model in a field where women are rare and women of color are rarer still,” said Turner, a surgical residency classmate at Howard. “She was beloved because she was approachable and kind and thoughtful, someone who was always willing to take time out of her busy schedule to help students, whether to get into a school or a fellowship or write a paper. Her death is just so sad, such a waste.”
The bodies of Burroughs and Gordon-Burroughs have been sent to the Galveston County Medical Examiner’s for autopsy, said the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s office news release.