August 3, 2015 | Stories & Profiles

My Story: Chief Medical Officer Jill Warrington

Our tagline, We Understand Treatment, speaks to our compassion for those in recovery and our personal experiences with addiction and other life challenges. Here’s one employee’s story, from Jill Warrington, our Chief Medical Officer.  

When I was doing my rotations during medical school, I liked everything. After my OBGYN rotation, I wanted to deliver babies. After my surgical rotation, I wanted to work in an operating room. After my internal medicine rotation, I wanted to promote the overall well-being and health of adults.

But in the end, pathology resonated the most with me. Not because I was a fan of “CSI,” but because it combined the best of both worlds – the chance to help people and the opportunity to indulge my scientific curiosity.

I joined Burlington Labs in 2011 – when we were still a tiny mom-and-pop lab with just 10 employees. At the time, I was working as a pathologist at the University of Vermont, and my peers thought I was crazy. It certainly wasn’t the gorgeous facilities that drew me here. It was the people and the mission. It felt like a family.

Unlike any other lab I’ve ever worked at, the people at Burlington Labs put their heart into their work. Many employees and leaders have personal experiences with addiction and recovery. Others of us less so, but we relate to the mission in a very personal way through our own experiences with suffering and perseverance – what I think of as “the human condition.”

For some of my co-workers, it’s having a parent with Alzheimer’s; for others, it’s surviving breast cancer. For me, it was the crushing loss of my father and my oldest daughter, and the near-loss of my second daughter, all within a year, through completely different, and very rare, conditions.

In late 2009, my dad was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and terminal form of cancer in the bile ducts. Despite his fighting spirit, he succumbed to this disease and died by my side six months later.

During my dad’s own battle with death, my only child, a beautiful little redheaded girl named Ellie, died suddenly and unexpectedly. She suffered from an extraordinarily rare immunological attack of her heart in response to a common gastrointestinal bug. Within one hour after her first symptoms, her heart gave out. Despite resuscitative efforts, she died in my arms. She was 13 months old.
My husband and I were then given a beautiful gift: I was pregnant with another little girl a month later. While we were overjoyed, I was terrified and stressed. The baby was growth-restricted and I was put on 10 weeks of bed-rest. The induced delivery was difficult. During the birth, the placenta ruptured, and our little girl inhaled a lot of blood on her way into the world.

She couldn’t take her first breath on her own. She was put on every machine possible and was given a 50/50 chance of survival. After 72 hours of touch-and-go status, she persevered. We named her Grace.

After these experiences, I was left with a feeling of incredible human vulnerability. Even the most unlikely tragedy can happen to any of us at any time. Since we can’t insulate ourselves from risk, the only productive thing we can do with that vulnerability is to say “we’re all in this together” and care for one another.

And that’s what drew me to Burlington Labs.

We’re unique in how we connect to people. I’m obviously very proud of our science – and our science is excellent – but even I can admit that it’s not what sets us apart.

At our core, starting with our co-founders and continuing with every employee we have today, we prioritize the whole person in every interaction. My team’s work in the laboratory is always placed in the context of the person in treatment – and through the lens of compassion, not judgment.

It’s a refreshing place to be for anyone who’s experienced that “human condition.” It makes Burlington Labs feel very worth coming to each day.