Thursday 24 Apr 2014

Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

STORIES FROM THE HEART: Internet’s `PirateGray’ fighting heart disease in honor of her dad

Published: 10:28 am CDT, August 8, 2013


G
rayson Burger grew up watching her father struggle with heart problems.

The last few years, the 20-year-old from South Brunswick, N.J., has been building a career out of her online persona: PirateGray.

In December, she combined her passions to produce a video about her dad’s fight and the American Heart Association’s important role in fighting heart disease.


She entered it as part of Project for Awesome 2012, an annual online event attracting thousands of videos posted on YouTube to promote charities.  The responses made her feel great, including a video response from Nancy Brown, the chief executive of the American Heart Association.

“I didn’t expect anyone at AHA to watch my video,” she said. “It just made me happy that I was able to touch someone with my video.”

***

Gary Burger’s health struggles began long before Grayson was born – all the way back to when he was 8.

He contracted rheumatic fever, which led to problems with his mitral valve. When he was 19, he underwent open-heart surgery to patch a hole and to repair his mitral valve. Another repair was done 17 years later. Later still, a St. Jude biventricular pacemaker device and mitral valve were inserted. Over the years, Gary had other pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) devices.

In 2001, a stroke left him unable to resume his job as a manager for an apparel company. Grayson was in middle school at the time.

Over the last two years, Gary’s health worsened. He spent most of his time in bed or on the couch. In March, he developed a repeat bacterial infection in his blood. He was hospitalized earlier this summer after developing congestive heart failure. On July 20, he died in his sleep. He was 69.

“Today I lost the greatest man in my life,” Grayson posted on Facebook and Twitter that day.

Two days later, she and her boyfriend Ty Moss posted “RIP Mr. Burger” as part of their popular YouTube series “Ty and Gray Daily Vlogs (Video Blogs).” Gary had appeared in several posts and Grayson said he often asked about her viewers.

“He was an amazing guy. I’m really happy that somehow we were able to share parts of him with you guys,” she said in the video. “I wish I could have had all of you guys meet him. I really do. … It’s hard. Just hug and love everybody that you love and don’t let a moment pass you that you don’t tell someone that you love them or hug them or kiss them.”

She recounted his struggles with heart disease – and his perseverance against it.

“My dad never, never gave up. He always fought. He was always so strong. He still is strong,” she said. “I think what happened is he realized he couldn’t get any better. He wanted to make it easier for my mom and my family, even though it’s going to be hard. … He is and always will be an amazing person.”

***

Grayson works as a video blogger, producing and posting videos online about her life and things she finds interesting or funny through an unscripted reality Web series.

She lives in North Carolina and operates on several social media sites, as well as her own website. She has several YouTube channels, with the most popular (“Ty and Gray Daily Vlogs”) attracting more than 85,000 subscribers.

Grayson’s original video about her dad’s story went online in December 2012. It’s been viewed more than 6,800 times, and has drawn lots of feedback – mostly support, but also people sharing their own stories.

“It just made me happy that I was able to touch someone with my video.”

“It hit close to home for many people because it was so personal for me,” she said. “I had a few viewers say thank you for raising awareness and making them feel like they’re not alone as they struggle with similar issues.”

This video was Grayson’s first involvement with the American Heart Association – the first of many, she hopes. She plans to produce more video blog entries about the organization and its lifesaving mission.

For instance, she’s learned that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all Americans, and that the American Heart Association annually funds more research than any organization outside the federal government. She knows that the American Heart Association was involved in many of the advancements in medical technology that helped extend her dad’s life. It’s worth noting his battle with heart disease went on for more than 60 years.

“My dad was incredibly lucky to grow up alongside research and efforts from organizations like the American Heart Association,” Grayson said.

***

Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

Spurred by her mom’s illness, nurse works to help recovery of cardiac rehab
Vermont teen Tommy Watson trains his 1,000th person in CPR
Woman didn’t know CPR needed to save her husband’s life; luckily, their teen son did
Photos courtesy of Grayson Burger