Originally Published MDDI October 2001
For all of us, the events of September 11, 2001, were deeply personal, regardless of whether we personally knew any of those who died on that day. We at MD&DI mourn the still uncounted thousands who perished, and honor their memory.
But like many in the medical device industry, we have been touched in particular by one of those thousands, Thomas E. Burnett Jr. His story by now is well known. The senior vice president and COO of medical device company Thoratec (Pleasanton, CA), he was coming home that day on United flight 93 to San Francisco. When the plane was hijacked, he, along with Jeremy Glick, Todd Beamer, and other passengers, decided to take action. From phone calls they and others made in those final minutes, we know that they intended to take on the hijackers. Although the plane crashed, it is nearly certain that the actions of these passengers saved many more lives in Washington, DC.
Burnett had spent more than 15 years working in the medical device industry, beginning in 1985 at McGaw Laboratories in Irvine, CA. He subsequently worked at Calcitek (Carlsbad, CA), ultimately as vice president of sales and marketing, before joining Thoratec in 1996.
As remembered by Thoratec president and CEO Keith Grossman, a longtime friend as well as a colleague, Burnett was "well on his way to a truly brilliant career." Like so many others whose lives were cut short by the heartless acts of madmen, Burnett's career potential is now a matter of speculation. But his place in history as one of the heroes of that terrible day is now secure.
Tom Burnett is survived by his wife and three young daughters. To help his family and to honor his memory, Thoratec has established a memorial fund. Donations can be made payable to:
The Thomas E. Burnett Jr. Family
C/O CIBC Oppenheimer Corp.
580 California St., Ste. 2300
San Francisco, CA 94104
Although we never met Tom Burnett, we have come to feel as if we know him now. To paraphrase one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln, the world will not long remember what we say on this page, but it can never forget what Thomas Burnett and his fellow passengers did on Flight 93. He did not die in vain.
Copyright ©2001 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry