Steven Berk

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Steven Lee Berk
Born 1949
New York City, New York, USA
Residence Lubbock, Texas
Nationality American
Alma mater

Brandeis University

Boston University School of Medicine
Occupation

Physician
Dean of medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Kidnapping victim in 2005

Author, Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story
Spouse(s) Shirley H. Berk
Children Jeremy and Justin Berk
Parent(s) Sidney and Fritzie Berk[1]

Steven Lee Berk (born 1949) is a specialty physician and academic dean of medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas,[2] who in 2011 wrote a book, Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story, about his experiences six years earlier as a victim of kidnapping from his then residence off Interstate 27 in the Randall County portion of Amarillo, the major city of the Texas Panhandle.

Berk's ordeal[edit]

At the time of his ordeal, Berk was the regional dean of the Texas Tech medical branch in Amarillo, but on August 1, 2006, he was moved to the high position at the Lubbock campus. There are two other branch campuses in Odessa and El Paso.[3] At the time of his abduction, Berk was at home on Sunday morning with his younger son, Justin. The older son, Jeremy, was away in college. Berk's wife, Shirley H. Berk (born c. 1950), a microbiologist who had served on a school board while they lived in Johnson City, Tennessee, was at church. The culprit, Jack Lindsey Jordan (born in 1963 in Seminole, Texas), gained entry from an open rear garage door and an unlocked back entrance to the residence. Normally, both the garage and the back door would have been locked. Jordan demanded money and jewelry to pay for transportation and narcotics, particularly methamphetamines, as he proceeded along Interstate 40 west toward New Mexico. After being held for four hours in Jordan's vehicle on a cool, windy day, common to the Panhandle in March, Berk was released unharmed near a gasoline station in rural Bushland in southwestern Potter County. This life-threatening event propelled the physician to write about his ordeal. He interlaces the narrative with much of his life story, from his birth in New York City, his childhood in New Jersey, his medical education at Boston University School of Medicine,[4] his work in the fields of infectious diseases,[5]geriatrics, and internal medicine at the East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City, and his relocation to Amarillo, his adopted city which he had grown to love. Since the events of 2005, Dr. Berk has been transferred to the main medical campus in Lubbock.[4]

Berk's kidnapping changed his life perspective. He had taken precaution to shield his son who was unaware of the intruder in their midst, and he kept his wife in the dark for her own protection after she had returned home and began preparing lunch. The kidnapping and robbery spurred Dr. Berk to gain a greater appreciation for his family and his work as a physician. The crime changed Berk's mind about gun control laws, which he had first supported as a 19-year-old upon the assassination in June 1968 of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. At the time, Berk did not know the difference between a shotgun and a rifle, an anomaly for most men in West Texas, but he soon purchased a gun for his family's protection and learned how to use it.[4]

Out of self-preservation, Berk studied the psyche of his kidnapper, but he never fell prey to the Stockholm syndrome. He reveals case histories and stresses that a physician must listen carefully to his patients' personal experiences. Such information may be more critical in making accurate diagnoses than sophisticated medical tests. With the goal of survival, Berk delved into Jordan's background and made the criminal think that he was sympathetic to "the mistakes" that Jordan had made in his life. Berk believes that the state prison system failed Jordan, who had been released from custody without rehabilitation, and then the drug addiction propelled Jordan to a further crime spree. In 2007, Jordan was convicted of the aggravated robbery and kidnapping of Dr. Berk, with both offenses netting life sentences.[4]

In retrospect[edit]

Berk said that the greatest lesson he learned from his four hours in captivity was the desirability "to live each day to the fullest, to celebrate the joys of family, work, and good health, and to appreciate our every moment as precious."[4]

Three weeks after the kidnapping, Berk penned an opinion column in the Amarillo Globe-News. Here is a portion of his remarks:

I have been spared to see another day, a victim of crime who gives thanks for life itself. My story is unique, but I feel like a brother or sister to many others - those who have walked away from a demolished car, those whose heart stopped and started again, people who lost a breast or colon or were born weighing a pound but came off a ventilator and lived.

We do not understand how we as a group differ from the non-survivors: those who were killed by their kidnapper, died at the hands of a drunken driver or succumbed to a heart attack or breast cancer, or the premature infant who never came home. For now, we are alive and they are not. We are no smarter, no more religious, no more favored. To believe otherwise is to dishonor the memory of those who have died tragically, violently or prematurely.

... I suspect that we who survive have some purpose. We serve as reminders that life is precious, unpredictable and beyond our control. We need to protect our lives - in my case, to keep the garage door closed; for others, perhaps, to exercise, stop smoking, obtain the yearly mammogram, or wear seat belts. But in the end, our fates are in God's hands, and our lives are on loan. None of us are guaranteed safety, health or old age. ...[6]

In July 2012, Berk presented his story on the I Survived... documentary television series over the Biography Channel.[7]

Victoria Sutton, the Paul Whitfield Horn Professor at the Texas Tech University School of Law, said in her review of Anatomy of a Kidnapping:

Not only is Dr. Berk a master of writing an interesting case history, his ability to tell a story is strikingly rich, deep, and engaging. I laughed, I cried, and came away thinking this is a story that has to be told. I started reading it and I could not put it down—or I probably would not have been able to fall asleep that night without knowing how it ended for Dr. Berk but also for [the perpetrator].[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Sidney Berk obituary". Amarillo Globe-News. June 1, 2006. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Steven Berk, M.D.". ttuhsc.edu. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  3. ^ Elliott Blackburn (March 31, 2006). "New HSC dean adds regional perspective". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Billy Hathorn, Review of Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story by Steven Lee Berk, M.D., Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 2011, in West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 184-186
  5. ^ "Dr. Steven Berk: Infectious Disease Specialist". doctor.com. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  6. ^ Steven Lee Berk (March 27, 2005). "Guest Column: Purpose provides reason to survive". Amarillo Globe-News. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Dr. Steven Berk to appear on Biography Channel's 'I Survived'". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. July 20, 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Anatomy of a Kidnapping". ttupress.org. Retrieved August 6, 2014.