Emme Tomimbang & Jim Burns' personal caregiving story

Special report: Emme Tomimbang & Jim Burns' personal caregiving story
Jim Burns & Emme Tomimbang
Jim Burns & Emme Tomimbang

HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) - For thirty years, Emme Tomimbang shared "Island Moments" with viewers, but the TV star's defining moment came off camera with back to back health crises.

"I found out my husband had stage 4 throat cancer" says Emme. "About 6 to 9 months later, I had a brain aneurysm. I cheated death."

Her husband Jim Burns recalls not knowing if she would survive, "Cross your fingers and hope as she comes out of it and say well looks pretty good."

Before Emme's own life was on the line, she was her husband's lifeline. She showed us the equipment she used to tube him, adding "This was his survival for 9 months because he couldn't eat anything. I always felt like I was going to fail and it was torturing to think this is my husband's life."

Emme's plate was full, caregiving for her mom too, while working on her last special, Hawaii Five-O Revisited. It was a vicious cycle. She describes her hectic schedule. "Late night, early in morning, then get few hours sleep. Then get up and take care of my husband who was tube fed, crush his medication, do all the things I was supposed to to get him going."

She was running on empty. Then one day, she explains, "I collapsed at home by myself." Her lifeline was her Rottweiler Rufus. The couple says of their dog, "He's our caregiver. Yes, he's our caregiver."

Emme credits Rufus for saving her life, saying "Rufus who unbeknownst to me, knew how to open our sliding doors and came and licked my face, woke me up. I crawled with him to the phone. He just kind of went on his fours and then we got to the phone. I was able to call Jim and the rest is a blur."

Emme's the rare two percent who survives a ruptured aneurysm. Rufus reminds her to relax and take naps to rest her brain. In her words, if she falls into her old ways, "he'll knock my hand off the computer."

You'd never guess what Jim and Emme have been through by looking at them today. Jim says they're constantly told the same thing. "Both of us, first thing they say is my god you look good, but I say looks are deceiving."

Emme's biggest challenge is short term memory loss. At her first public speaking engagement at the Cancer Survivorship  Conference, surrounded by the nurses who saved her life, Emme slipped and called her husband Jim 'Rufus.'

"Sometimes my dog is called Jim" explains Emme. "And sometimes I tell him Rufus come and sit down I have to give you your medication."

For Jim, eating is now a privilege after being tube fed for months. He says, "when I watch people eat, I really enjoy watching and when I can talk, swallow, it's a blessing for me."

On the one year anniversary of her aneurysm, Emme reunited with the first responders who saved her life, to say thanks in person. "It was very emotional because I had never really seen them, but when they started talking, I recognized their voices."

Not a day goes by, when they don't count their blessings, living proof of their marriage vows. "When you get married, you say in sickness and in health" says Jim. "We're living a new life. We're basically reborn."

Tomorrow at ten, part two of our special report. Do's and don'ts for caregivers from Emme and Jim and married cancer survivors who counseled them through treatment. Plus, where you can turn for help.

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