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A Pfizer shot. A failed heart. A transplant. Get vaxxed again?
John Berndsen was among masses inoculated under what Dr. Peter McCullough calls “the worst pharmaceutical development idea in the history of mankind.” It cost him his heart.
As he slept in the early morning hours of March 10, 2021, the heart of a South Carolina man suddenly stopped. Just like that. It had been fourteen hours since his first covid-19 vaccine.
John Berndsen, 64, might have died then but for a cardiac defibrillator, implanted in his chest eighteen years prior, that jumpstarted his heart. The device had not gone off in ten years—and then only to signal anomalies that led to changes in medication.
Until that fateful Pfizer shot, Berndsen was healthy and fit, according to his primary care physician and medical records. He did not smoke and drank minimally; he ate well and exercised, an outgrowth of his long-ago—“life-changing,” he said—brush with mortality. In 2020, he racked up the course record of 174 golf rounds, always walking and routinely carrying his clubs. He went to the gym and did yoga. He was professionally active as a consultant for corporate mergers and acquisitions.
That all changed in March of 2021.
Berndsen’s medical saga would include urgent surgeries, blood clots, one code blue, a “white light” moment, a stroke, an aortic aneurysm, sepsis, and—the ultimate—a transplanted heart for the one that gave out. His insurance company would pay $3.36 million for that precious new organ, statements show, not including hospitalizations before and outpatient care after the transplant.
Dr. Peter McCullough, a widely published cardiologist and expert in covid-19 vaccine safety, has studied Berndsen’s records and seen him as a patient. The misery that Berndsen and his family endured, the months of hospitalization and rehab, and the enormous financial cost all lead back to one thing, McCullough strongly believes.
“His pre-existing heart disease, fulminant course of illness immediately after the shot, and his complication with stroke,” he told me, “all exemplify near fatal mRNA vaccine induced myocarditis.” Berndsen’s own doctor agrees that the vaccination “accelerated” the disease that led to the transplant.
McCullough urged Berndsen and his wife, Leslie, to tell their story as emblematic of a failed and harmful covid response, and he put them in touch with me.
“This is the real story,” McCullough told me after seeing the Berndsens in Dallas in April, where they gave consent for McCullough to speak with me. “It’s somebody who survives all this who is high functioning and can talk about it.”
“Most like him with the same vignette,” he said, “passed away.”
Does cause matter?
In the weeks after vaccination, as Berndsen gasped for breath and lost heart function, doctors did everything to help him and support his need for a new heart. They saved his life more than once, and he is profoundly grateful. But the medical community also expressed little concern or curiosity over what precipitated the need for one in the first place.
In Berndsen’s records from the transplant center at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, he is referred to multiple times as “not fully COVID-vaccinated.” Just once is the possible vaccine/transplant link mentioned, and only in quoting him. “Pt feels this correlates to around the time he rec’d his first Pfizer dose.”
“Every time I brought it up,” which was often, Berndsen told me, “there was silence. It was not relevant to the immediate task of saving my life.”
Indeed, the silence surrounding vaccine injury is deafening.
A couple of months after Berndsen “flatlined”—the word used by medics—a college freshman at Northwestern University had her second Moderna shot and suffered similarly crippling myocarditis. Her timeline: April 3, 2021, first shot. May 1, 2021, second shot. May 23, 2021, heart transplant. June 11, 2021, death.
Missing from a university statement on Simone Scott’s passing was any mention of covid vaccination, including her severe reaction to the first shot. “She passed away due to [post-transplant] pneumonia-related issues,” according to the university, which had just mandated students be vaccinated the following fall.
Scott, 19, was majoring in journalism, and, a month earlier, had been tweeting jubilantly about her work at the campus broadcast station.
In another case, a 58-year-old man with long covid resumed vaccination and developed “severe isolated cardiomyopathy.” In a carefully worded medical report, doctors called it the first such case of “heart transplant after both COVID-19 infection and vaccination.” Medical reports that directly implicate vaccines are difficult to get published. .
Two days after he flatlined, Berndsen reported his suspected vaccine injury to the government’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
In response, he received a CDC form letter. “It didn’t say anything,” he said.
He deleted the email.
An article like this is meant to spur debate about the safety of covid-19 vaccines, not settle it. Yet thousands of similar stories are simply not being reported in the media—blame the dreaded misinformation, anti-vax label—even when circumstances and data strongly suggest vaccine injury. Berndsen’s case is extreme but not unique.
Nearly one million post-covid vaccine injuries have been posted to VAERS. These do not count another half-million from outside the United States and its territories. The U.S. numbers, as of May 19, include:
Heart attacks: 8,240
Permanently disabled: 16,951
John Berndsen’s VAERS report is not counted among those myocarditis cases, nor is his heart transplant recorded. If he updates his report, the public version will remain the same, limiting information to researchers who look for signals of harm. Further confounding serious study, VAERS reports are routinely culled by the CDC without explanation. Injury descriptions have been removed from European Union reports.
Most egregiously, the CDC essentially disavows the utility of the database.
“The number of reports alone cannot be interpreted or used to reach conclusions about the existence, severity, frequency, or rates of problems associated with vaccines,” the Centers for Disease Control’s VAERS disclaimer states. “The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”
Such messages have encouraged the press, public, and doctors to discount VAERS.
But surely numbers must count for something in a system that, before covid, was estimated in a government-commissioned study to receive “fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events.” After all, the online system takes time and requires a modicum of computer sophistication, vaccination information, and medical diagnosis.
In three decades, 9,935 deaths were reported to VAERS related to every flu, childhood immunization, and other non-covid vaccine worldwide.
By comparison, in less than three years, nearly four times that number—35,302 deaths—have been reported after covid vaccination alone. About half are from the U.S. and its territories.
McCullough believes the vaccines should have been pulled when there were fifty deaths, not 35,000.
“Mass indiscriminate vaccination with a novel set of genetic products that code for the lethal Wuhan spike protein,” he told me, “was the worst pharmaceutical development idea in the history of mankind.”
Get vaccine #2
John Berndsen’s heart transplant was a test of Herculean endurance for him and the people who loved him.
He was hospitalized for nearly eight months at Emory, including three months while doctors kept him alive and awaited a donor’s after-death generosity. He got his heart on August 10, 2021, exactly five months and one day after his Pfizer shot.
Four times, his chest was sawed open: twice to provide life support in the lead-up to the transplant; once to perform the transplant; and then, in the midst of recovery, to frantically repair a ruptured aorta.
Leslie kept a dated litany of pain. A sample:
“11/24/21: John’s birthday. Chest pain severe, and sepsis.”
“11/28/21: CT scan reveals aortic aneurism. Advised 30-40% chance for survival/70-80% chance for stroke.”
Berndsen beat the odds of survival but stroked out nonetheless. He underwent—and is still in—rehab. He cannot work.
If every other surgery was tough, this was monumental. “I was starting in the basement; I was paralyzed. I couldn’t do anything,” he told me. “I had lost cognitive function.”
In the spring of 2022, after all of this, John and Leslie Berndsen faced the unthinkable.
They were told, in messages on hospital posters, on every automated call to the transplant program and in the official policy of the American Society of Transplantation, that John should resume covid vaccination three months after transplant.
“We strongly recommend all transplant patients receive COVID-19 vaccines,” the policy states. “(I)t is normal to have some side effects,” it continues. “These generally resolve in 24-48 hrs.”
That, of course, was not John Berndsen’s experience. What was odd, however, was how hospital staff studiously avoided commenting on the vaccines, one way or the other, the Berndsens said. The people on the frontlines weren’t pushing the product, while cues everywhere else said to get the jab. (Emory did not respond to emails seeking comment.)
“We are amazed by and beholden to the incredible doctors, nurses, and staff who saved John,” Leslie recalls. “I can grow old with the love of my life. It is the system, the bureaucracy, that we couldn’t trust.”
That’s when they turned to Dr. McCullough.
McCullough was unambiguous about another shot: “I intervened and said, NO WAY.”
In 1976, an outbreak of a new respiratory illness called swine flu was likened, ominously, to the 1918 influenza pandemic. A vaccine was hastily rolled out, and forty million people were inoculated in three months. After forty-one deaths and fifty-four cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, duly reported in the media, the program was suspended; it never resumed amid flagging public support and charges of “scare tactics.”
This occurred, it is worth noting, long before government-sanctioned pharmaceutical advertising and influence exploded, starting in 1997. It was before a federal law absolved vaccine makers of liability in an emergency, except in cases of “willful misconduct.”
That makes today very different.
John Berndsen’s children live in a milieu that vilifies people who allege vaccine harms, even when injuries are as close and clear as their father’s. That’s why, with young and flourishing careers, his two daughters asked not to be quoted by name for this article.
“It was like a bad dream,” one daughter said of her family’s trauma, her voice breaking. But it is one that you don’t talk about publicly.
“People don’t want you to ask questions and challenge anything,” she said. “They just want you to blindly trust everything.” Her sister tried to tell friends that the link between her father’s vaccination and heart failure was no coincidence. They were disbelieving.
“Everybody needs to be able to share their experiences and their truths,” she said, asking a question that applies to the public vaccine debate: “Why can’t we talk about this?”
McCullough has been trying. He was one of the first researchers, with Dr. Jessica Rose, to sound the alarm about covid vaccine-induced myocarditis. Their seminal study showed rates were “significantly higher in youths between the ages of 13 to 23,” as opposed to the “rare” qualification posited by the CDC. The paper was forced to be withdrawn.
In a huge admission in an internal email in January, CDC’s Tom Shimabukuro called the vaccine risk for young males “high for myocarditis” with symptoms “well defined and consistent.”
McCullough and Rose had said that in October 2021. And they had used VAERS data to draw their conclusions.
Jab ‘accelerated disease’
John Berndsen undoubtedly had a vulnerable heart when vaccinated on March 9, 2021. As his daughter told me, “It’s not right for everyone, and it wasn’t right for my dad.”
His personal care physician since November 2020 believes the shot tipped Berndsen over the edge.
In a letter prepared for this article, Dr. Christopher LeBlanc of Bluffton, S.C., recounted Berndsen’s heart attack in 2003; his “high quality of functioning” in the years since; his decline in health after his vaccination; and his “slow progress” since his transplant.
“However, it is my opinion within a reasonable degree of medical certainty given the timeline of his decline,” LeBlanc concluded, “that the mRNA vaccine administered to Mr. Berndsen in March of 2021 accelerated his cardiovascular disease, ultimately requiring his heart transplant.”
But for his heart defibrillator, John Berndsen might not have survived the night of his vaccination. Instead, he might have been one more “excess” death in an unheralded worldwide trend.
In a comprehensive study of thirty-one European countries, Norwegian researchers analyzed deaths from all causes, and compared them to the pre-pandemic, five-year average. As more people were vaccinated, a “strongly significant” signal emerged.
In each of the first nine months of 2022, the study reported, for every 1 percent increase in vaccination uptake, deaths rose by one-tenth percent. The researchers, controlling for other factors like covid itself, called it a “robust” correlation.
While that sliver of additional deaths each month may not sound like much, “it’s a huge number, absolutely huge,” said Dr. John Campbell, a YouTube medical educator with 2.7 million followers based in the United Kingdom. In the U.K., 4,190 more people died in just the last two weeks of April than would normally be expected.
“Brits are dying in their tens of thousands,” screamed a headline in the Mirror in early May, “and we don’t really have any idea why.”
In fact, we do.
Heed the numbers
A plethora of data is available showing a temporal relationship between vaccination and downstream affects. It may not prove that vaccines kill. Most people survive their inoculations. But ignoring such numbers, as is the norm, does not prove they are safe either.
In Germany, each of four vaccine rollout campaigns were followed by surges in deaths nationally, researchers found, particularly among people with lower covid risk: 40- to 49-year-olds were 9.3 percent above average.
A Columbia University researcher found that covid-vaccination rates “predicted” mortality rates up to five weeks afterward, “with an age-related temporal pattern consistent with the US vaccine rollout.”
Beyond these jab-death parallels, two other datasets raise serious questions. An Indiana life insurance company reported a stunning 40 percent increase in claim-related deaths among 18- to 64-year-olds in the third quarter of 2021. Society of Actuaries data also showed a sudden rise in deaths that quarter, particularly in younger, healthier people. These trends, which continue, could not be explained by covid itself.
What is causing them?
Cause and effect
Nineteen deaths were reported to VAERS as the vaccines were rolled out in December 2020, mostly of nursing home residents and older people. They, like Berndsen, were vulnerable.
“Pt (88) passed away with an hour to hour and 1/2 of receiving vaccine.”
“Pt (90) passed away with in 90 minutes” of vaccination.
Death on day of inoculation, age unknown. “Cardiac arrest, Circulatory collapse.”
Vaccine administered 11:29 a.m. “1:30pm the resident (84) passed away.”
“Awoke 12/20 and found spouse (74) dead.” Vaccinated 12/16.
“Death by massive heart attack.” Patient, 63, vaccinated four days earlier.
Patient, 88, vomited immediately after vaccination; died seven hours later.
In the era of swine flu, anecdotal reports like those rightfully set off alarms. Yet even when children died later in the covid vaccine rollout, the sirens were silent.
A Georgia boy, sixteen, suffered “headache and gastric upset over 2 days following second dose. …Found the following day dead in bed.”
A Wisconsin girl, sixteen, suffered pulmonary embolism nine days after her second dose; died two days later.
A Colorado boy, fifteen, died one day after his first dose.
A Florida boy, one year old, suffered “seizure, death” two days after his first dose.
An Iowa girl, five, who had an unspecified “complex” medical history, “found pulseless and not breathing” two days after first vaccination.
Why he got it
At his daughter’s wedding on May 1, 2021, an unsteady and gaunt John Berndsen took the microphone. He knew then, seven weeks after his shot, that he was very sick. He did not know his heart was eighteen days away from failing for the last time. Still, he was the funny, gregarious dad described by his daughters.
“Who’s glad to be here besides me?” he said, after several hospital stays and a missed rehearsal dinner. “Welcome to the first wedding where the bride walked the father down the aisle.”
When John Berndsen sought out a covid vaccine at a local Walgreen’s in 2021, it seemed the thing to do. Everyone was talking about getting the shots, even having to “scurry around” to find them. His was “definitely a compromised heart,” he said, and he wanted to protect it. He did not tell Leslie, who thought it could harm, not help, him.
Leslie remembers things that John does not, like the night, two weeks after the wedding, when John’s breathing was so labored she feared he would die. Suddenly, John awoke. He had seen light. “I was in heaven,’’ he told her. “I could breathe.”
With a new heart, Berndsen has been told he is “one infection away from rejection.” He watches his diet. Leslie researches ways to support his immunity. On the plus side, he no longer has a defibrillator. “His heart is happy in its new body,” Leslie said.
John, now 66, does not blame the doctors who did not question the vaccine’s role. “Their concern was my survival,” he said, “and my heart.” The Berndsens are grateful, however, that there are doctors like Peter McCullough, who do question the safe-and-effective vaccine narrative. He gave perspective to their vaccine experience and helped them navigate its aftermath.
“He was,” said Leslie, “a voice of reason in a world of chaos.”
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