Heart patient encourages women to be persistent in seeking care
Writer and educator Heather Dorn, PhD, is hoping her story of battling heart disease at an early age has encouraged other women to seek the best medical care they can find if they ever experience cardiovascular symptoms.
Dr. Dorn was a graduate student in her early 30s when she discovered that she couldn’t walk between classes without stopping to catch her breath and had further breathing issues when she tried to go to sleep at night. At the time, she was prone to blame herself for merely being “out of shape.”
Eventually she sought care, but her initial attempts to get a diagnosis proved unsatisfactory. Finally, she connected with a physician who administered an echocardiogram, immediately discovering that she was in heart failure.
“This came as a real shock to me,” said Dr. Dorn, a determined young woman and mother of three who, at the time, was focused on her family and pursuing higher education. “My ejection fraction was very low.”
Ejection fraction is measured as a percentage of the total amount of blood in a person’s heart that is pumped out with each heartbeat. A normal fraction is 55% or higher. Ejection fraction below 40% means the heart isn't pumping enough blood and may be failing. Dr. Dorn’s ejection fraction was only at 10% to 15%.
Within 10 days, she had an operation to have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) placed inside her chest. In the intervening years, she has endured an arduous healthcare journey.
Now in her 40s, Dr. Dorn is a popular and respected educator at Binghamton University, where she serves as lecturer and coordinator of Campus-Wide Writing Support and Editor-in-Chief of Binghamton Writes: A Journal of First-Year Writing.
While teaching in March 2023, her challenges increased when she was diagnosed with aggressive stage 2B triple negative breast cancer, complicated by a BRCA1 gene mutation and her heart diagnosis, cardiomyopathy. She underwent a double mastectomy, plus chemotherapy and immunotherapy to battle the disease.
Her students created a GoFundMe effort titled, “Help Heather Beat Breast Cancer,” and, within weeks, thousands of dollars were raised.
Under the umbrella of the institute, UHS offers a comprehensive range of cardiovascular services to patients across the Southern Tier. These include cardiology and interventional cardiology, sports medicine cardiology, pediatric cardiology, cardiac and vascular surgery, and cardiac electrophysiology.
The institute also features a structural heart program, and specialized clinics have been launched for patients with congestive heart failure, heart valve conditions and coagulation issues, as well as for those using cardiac devices, such as pacemakers.
Dr. Dorn credits the institute’s family nurse practitioner Jessie Flurschutz with being instrumental in the success of her care and the milestones she has been able to achieve.
“Jessie is simply amazing, one of the most outstanding clinicians I’ve ever interacted with,” Dr. Dorn said. “She is very caring. She doesn’t just look at what’s happening with my heart, but at everything that’s going on with me.”
Recently, when Dr. Dorn was hospitalized and experienced a difficult time, Ms. Flurschutz was right there, visiting her at her bedside.
“Jessie provides that higher level of care that you don’t always encounter in the health field today,” Dr. Dorn said.
Ms. Flurschutz has worked with Dr. Dorn a long time, and has come to greatly admire her strength, courage and positivity.
“Heather always has a great attitude,” the nurse practitioner said. “With both of her health situations, she has always remained optimistic and committed to finding ways to fix the problem.”
Continuing, Ms. Flurschutz noted: “She wants her healthcare provider to be frank with her, but to listen to her as well. She expects not just an answer, but an explanation, and that’s a very good way for a patient to advocate for themselves.”
Dr. Dorn and Ms. Flurschutz were among those from UHS and the American Heart Association who spoke at “Wear Red Day” on Feb. 2 at UHS Vestal.
The other speakers were John M. Carrigg, president and chief executive officer of UHS, and Jami Wood, regional director of the American Heart Association.
Dozens of UHS employees and members of the public donned red sweaters, scarves, socks and ties to attend the event in UHS Vestal’s main lobby.
February is American Heart Month, with UHS participating in a big way in the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" nationwide campaign, which underscores the importance of recognizing women's unique heart attack symptoms.
The Feb. 2 event also was designed to raise public awareness about the lifesaving value of knowing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, as UHS donated “CPR in Schools” training kits and a curriculum to two area schools and 24 “CPR Anytime” kits to four nonprofit organizations in the community.
On "Wear Red Day," a major event held nationwide on the first Friday each February, organizers at the American Heart Association urge people of all ages and walks of life to wear red for the day in support of the women in their lives--their wives, daughters, mothers, sisters and others.
Dr. Dorn encourages women to be persistent in championing the cause of their own health, being forthright with their physician about every change in how they’re feeling, and never wavering from seeking the medically correct diagnosis for symptoms they are experiencing.
“You need to advocate for yourself within medicine,” she said. “You’ve got to trust in what your body is trying to tell you. And it’s important to find a healthcare professional you’re comfortable talking to about what’s going on in your life, someone who will look out for your best interests.”
To learn more about the UHS Heart & Vascular Institute or find a cardiac specialist, visit nyuhs.org or call 607-240-2868.