Dr. Dave Parkus may have walked away from TNT’s “The Hero” empty-handed, but the 50-year-old Christus- St. Elizabeth trauma surgeon said that the support he received from Southeast Texans, who consider him their hero, was better than any cash prize.
Parkus was the first of five finalists eliminated on the reality show’s Aug. 1 season finale, which gave America a chance to vote for the contestant it felt was most deserving of walking home with $610,000. Although he finished fifth in the standings, Parkus said he came out a winner regardless.
“The most rewarding part for me was that through the Team Parkus page (on Facebook), I started seeing all these former patients saying, ‘Thank you, you saved me … you saved my dad … you saved my family member’” Parkus said. “It touched me.”
Susan Subia, a St. Elizabeth nurse who once worked with Parkus, created the Team Parkus Facebook group, which currently has more than 10,000 members.
“I started the Team Parkus page to help a true hero,” Subia said. “I started with one person, me, and within 3 days it was on fire.”
One needs only to visit the page and read the numerous comments from former patients and their family members and friends thanking the trauma surgeon for saving the lives of loved ones to see how much of an impact Parkus has had on Southeast Texans.
Saratoga native Carrie Stulting left Parkus this message before the finale aired:
“It does not really matter how the rest of America votes. He is a Hero! God blessed us by putting Dr. Dave Parkus over the trauma unit in Beaumont. In 2008, my husband was crushed by a forklift at work and if Beaumont wouldn’t (have) had a trauma team, he wouldn’t have made it to Houston. We all have different definitions for a hero, but as for my household we think Dave is one.”
Another message reads, “Thanks for saving me, back in 1999. The two little girls that my wife and I have in our home would not be here if I would not have had you as my trauma doctor!”
In an interview with The Examiner, Amber Lucia, mother and long-time paramedic for Winnie EMS, said she had Parkus to thank for saving her son Andrew’s life. In 2006, Lucia received a call from her husband, Michael. He and the children had been in a severe car accident leaving their 13-year-old, Nicholas, with a minor head injury and their 6-year-old, Andrew, unconscious and bleeding severely.
“We ran emergency traffic to St. Elizabeth, and he was there waiting,” said Lucia, who also works as a dispatcher at Orange County Sheriff’s Office. “He looked at Nicholas and cleared him for the moment. Andrew was not so lucky. He had a bad head injury and needed to be taken to surgery. Andrew had an open head injury all the way to the skull — the whole length of his head. Dr. Dave cleared his brain to make sure there was no need for neurosurgery and took Andrew straight up to surgery. I went to ER room 6 and had a severe melt down. The whole call was a mother’s worst nightmare.”
Parkus, who, through his surgical skills, has performed priceless miracles for a number of Southeast Texas families, only walked away from “The Hero” reality series with a small stipend of around $2,000, but winnings were never a motive for him, he said.
“I never did the show for the money,” he said. “If I would have won, I would have divided all the money amongst the contestants, and I was going to donate some to charity.”
Parkus said “The Hero” helped him recover from a failed relationship and four surgeries.
“It gave me motivation to get back in shape, lose the weight, and it completely took my mind off of what happened to me and took me to a whole other exciting world,” he said.
He was successful in the show’s first hero challenge, a timed, individual test of courage, strength and mental fortitude that would have most likely made the average person cringe and cry to momma.
Crawling face-first through dark crawlspaces and spider webs while ignoring the possibility of tarantula bites and injury, Parkus had 20 minutes to find his way through the bunker of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga.
“The only real fear I have is failure,” Parkus said. “I knew I was going way down deep and knew it was going to be dark. I had to repel down 280 feet underground through an elevator shaft.”
Once Parkus made his way through the dusty, dark fortress through air vents and corridors and to the room where he retrieved a bag holding $50,000, he said he was given a miner headlamp to help him find his way out. Parkus said that while the light made the journey back more manageable, it also revealed some rather unwelcome critters.
“I turned around and there were tons of tarantulas,” Parkus explained. “When I was a kid in grammar school I used to play with tarantulas. I’m not scared of them, but it’s just gross. They were everywhere in this little crawlspace — on the ground, on the sides, on the top. As I am going through, I am sweeping tarantulas to the side as I am going through and one of them actually bit me on the neck. No big deal.”
Parkus finished the challenge, but rather than keeping the money like a few other opportunistic contestants decided to do, he chose to put it back in the pot to add to the overall total winnings, which he said he doesn’t regret.
“The Hero,” which was at its highest Nielsen rating of 0.7 after Parkus’ performance, didn’t air the tarantula biting him or the bronchitis he contracted which, according to Parkus, might have been caused by breathing in the muck of the old bunker.
“A couple of days later I started coughing my guts up and started getting feverish,” he said. “I looked at a couple of episodes and saw that I had black rings under my eyes.”
Other contestants even jokingly mocked Parkus as a cougher when contestants were asked to imitate each other, he said. This too was not aired.
But Parkus endured the rounds of elimination and the temptations to accept bribes — a significant part of the show where “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson offered money to random contestants with consequences for the others and a risk of jeopardizing the whole team if accepted. He made it to the last episode all without breaking down emotionally or shedding a tear unlike many of the other contestants including the winner, 46-year-old Massachusettian Patty O’Neal, who many on Facebook accused of crying her way to a victory and 55 percent of the vote.
Parkus even got a special treat after the finale that the other contestants cannot claim.
“Whenever everyone was clearing out and I was walking off the stage, the Rock’s girlfriend grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, Dr. Dave, the Rock’s mom (Ata Johnson) wants to meet you.’ She walked me over to the Rock’s mom, and the Rock’s mom grabs my hand and says, ‘Dr. Dave, you’re my favorite on the show. I voted for you.’”
Parkus said one picture was not enough for Mrs. Johnson, and during the second picture, he took the opportunity to make the moment memorable for both of them.
“Just as we were getting ready to take the second picture, I kissed the Rock’s mom on the cheek,” Parkus said. “I tweeted the Rock and said, ‘Thanks for an amazing experience on the show, but the best part is, I kissed your momma.”
Though the thought of a kiss with Dr. Dave might fade in Mrs. Johnson’s mind, through his lifesaving profession Parkus will remain a hero in the minds of many other mothers including Lucia’s.
“I remember Dave coming into the room while they were taking Andrew upstairs and wrapping his arms around me and telling me I did good, and it’s going to be OK,” Lucia said. “Dave made every effort to make sure my boys were very well taken care of for the next week. He personally came and did all the care that was needed. I knew when I let Andrew go back with Dave he was in great hands. Dave was not only a trauma surgeon, but also a friend. He went well out of his way to make sure my family was cared for. He showed true compassion beyond his scope of practice. I have witnessed wonderful things from him for not only my family but many trauma patients I have brought him. Each and every one means something to him.”
And just like thousands of other fans of Parkus, Lucia showed her support for her hero on the Team Parkus Facebook page.
“You’re my hero! You saved my little Andrew, so forever you are in my heart!”