The Heartbreaking Truth About Hallmark Star Brooke Burns

Brooke Burns has been one of the OG "Baywatch" babes, a game show host, and the star of Hallmark Christmas classics such as "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." But if it wasn't for a devastating childhood tragedy, there's a good chance the actor never would have pursued a Hollywood career.

Growing up, Burns harbored a dream that many little girls entertain: being a ballerina. Some girls take a few ballet classes and decide that training for long hours in a tutu isn't as fun as they thought it would be, but Burns stuck with it and mastered the graceful art form. "That was my love and my passion," she said on "The Big Impact" podcast. 

Burns' family lived in Romania for several years when her father was a missionary, which provided her with an amazing opportunity — at age 12, she performed with the Romanian Opera Ballet. She seemed well on her way to becoming a professional dancer, but a knee injury cut her dream short. "'Devastating' was really the word that it was for me," Burns said. But the new path her heartbreak sent her down didn't turn out to be so bad. "I was super depressed, so my mom put me in modeling, which then led to commercials, which then led to the acting," she said on "The Suki & Scott Show." Finding a new purpose after overcoming a major tragedy would become a pattern in her life.

She was told she couldn't get pregnant

On "The Big Impact," Brooke Burns revealed that she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at a young age. While she was lucky to survive the disease, she was told that she would be unable to have children. This was hard to hear, as she had always looked forward to becoming a mother. "I thought I would have six kids," she said. According to a post on her Instagram page, Burns was 18 when a doctor dashed this dream. She didn't elaborate on the reason why she was told that motherhood was an impossibility for her, but according to the American Cancer Society, cancer treatments, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy, can cause infertility. Scarring caused by surgery to remove cancerous tissue from reproductive organs can also make it difficult or impossible to get pregnant.

Whatever treatment Burns had, it turned out that she wasn't actually infertile. When the "Gourmet Detective" star was 22 years old, she and her husband at the time, "Nip/Tuck" actor Julian McMahon, welcomed their daughter Madison. "Madison means 'Gift from God.' She was my miracle baby," Burns said in an interview with The Adams Group Public Relations. Because she was so thrilled to be a mom, she found it difficult not to spoil her baby girl. Unfortunately, learning to be assertive with her daughter wasn't her only concern; she soon found herself struggling to navigate life as a single mom.

How Brooke Burns learned about her husband's rumored infidelity

In a 2002 interview with Stuff magazine, Brooke Burns revealed that she learned Julian McMahon had been having an affair in the pages of the National Enquirer. The tabloid was happy to reprint this revelation along with its allegation that McMahon had started doing some clandestine canoodling with his "Charmed" co-star Shannen Doherty. However, according reporting by the outlet, McMahon and Doherty's fling didn't start until they reunited to film the 2001 TV movie "Another Day." It aired a few months after Doherty appeared in her final episode of "Charmed." Of McMahon's rumored infidelity, Burns said, "It's funny — he was actually really great while we were together. Then I guess that's where it turns back to the whole L.A. thing."

On "The Suki & Scott Show," Burns revealed that becoming a single mom inspired her to audition for game show hosting roles. "I needed work and I told my agents, 'Look, I will do anything,'" she recalled. By 2002, she was hosting the NBC reality competition "Dog Eat Dog." Burns also continued acting. In 2004, she began appearing on Fox's "North Shore." In a plot worthy of a soap opera, Doherty was cast as her character's half-sister. According to a 2005 National Enquirer report, neither actor was comfortable with their work situation. "They still aren't getting along at all," a source said.

Brooke Burns had a near-death experience

Brooke Burns was known for rescuing swimmers in peril on "Baywatch," but she was the one who needed saving from a watery grave in 2005. She told "Keep the Faith" that an ill-judged dive into her backyard pool resulted in her hitting her head on the slope between the shallow and deep ends. Burns was extremely lucky that she had a friend over who was a firefighter paramedic. "He jumped in, and he pulled me up, and he saved my life," she said.

At the time, Burns' spokesperson said she suffered a neck injury that required surgery but that it wouldn't affect her ability to begin shooting the sitcom "Pepper Dennis." However, the actor's rep was seriously downplaying the severity of her injuries; Burns had broken her neck and bruised her spinal cord. She told "Keep the Faith" that her left side was paralyzed until she underwent an emergency surgical procedure. "I now have a rod and two plates and 10 screws in my neck," she said. On "Hollywood Medium," Burns revealed that the damage to her spine shaved an inch of her height. She also said that she had a near-death experience after hitting her head. "It felt like there was someone who was pulling me up with a string from the middle of my back, and I was sort of like an embryo," she recalled. Burns remembers deciding that she didn't want to go.

Brooke Burns' recovery from surgery was difficult

After becoming one of the lucky celebrities who survived a brush with death, Brooke Burns' frightening ordeal wasn't over. On the television special "25 Celebrity Near Death Experiences," she revealed that she suffered complications during the 10-hour surgery to repair her neck vertebrae. "I was having problems coming out of the anesthesia," she recalled. When she finally came to, she experienced some scary side effects from a medication she had received during the procedure. "I started having seizures; I was throwing up with a broken neck," she recalled.

Burns had to wear a neck brace for four months but she didn't let the accessory prevent her from filming "Pepper Dennis." She told Inbetween magazine that she got permission from her doctor to remove the brace for three minutes at a time, and she carried a hula hoop around to avoid collisions with the show's other cast and crew members.

Even after she physically healed, Burns' injury continued to impact her career. In 2013, she told Zap2It (via MSN Entertainment) it's why she turned down appearances on two high-dive reality competitions, "Splash" and "Stars in Danger: The High Dive." She explained that she suffered from PTSD from her diving injury, which sometimes made it difficult for her to simply be near a pool. "It threatened not only my life, but my mobility and my ability to be the kind of mom that I want to be to my child," she added.

Brooke Burns suffered multiple miscarriages

After her divorce from Julian McMahon, Brooke Burns' brief romance with Bruce Willis grabbed a few headlines in 2003 and 2004. The couple even reportedly got engaged, but it wasn't until 2013 that Burns made the trek down the aisle again. After the "Undercover Bridesmaid" star tied the knot with director Gavin O'Connor, who had a daughter from a previous relationship, the couple decided to expand their family. However, they experienced a lot of heartbreak before welcoming their daughter Declan in 2017 — 17 years after Burns became a first-time mom. In an Instagram post, Burns revealed that she had undergone IVF treatments for five years in hopes of getting pregnant again. She also miscarried a boy and twins.

On "The Big Impact," Burns recalled a conversation she and O'Connor had when she learned she was pregnant with Declan. "I had told him this is the last time that I can emotionally handle trying again, and I was so scared," she said. But Burns turned every day of her pregnancy into a small victory by using lipstick to mark them on her bathroom mirror. Those scribblings remain untouched as a monument to one of those rare occasions where joy and fear intermingle to create emotional chaos. "If you come to our house, the master bathroom mirror is covered in daily worries and prayers and reports of her heartbeat and her growth," she said. Now, she can look at it and smile without feeling scared.