Healing Heart: Nursing Student Born with Heart Defect Spreads Message of Hope

Posted on 5/15/2015 2:54:52 PM
Ellen Reinsburrow

An Indiana University of Pennsylvania nursing student has a true heart for helping others. Ellen Reinsburrow, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a junior nursing student at IUP, was born with a heart defect. However, she hasn’t let that stop her from pursuing her goals and counseling others with the same health issues.

When Reinsburrow was only five days old, she was required to have surgery for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a heart condition in which the left side of the heart has not completely developed, forcing the right side to pump all the blood to rest of the body. If undetected, this could eventually lead to heart failure.

Fortunately for her, this surgery and several follow-up surgeries were able to correct the problem. She went on to participate in dance, soccer, and cheerleading when she was in high school. She also participated in the People to People Student Ambassadors Program at age 15, representing the United States in Beijing, China. “My cardiologist said, ‘I fixed your heart, so go out and use it,’” she said.

From a very early age, Reinsburrow has been an active advocate for people with her heart condition. When she was nine, she lobbied with the American Heart Association in Washington, D.C. for children with congenital heart defects (CHD) to create a CHD Awareness Week. The efforts were successful, and now Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week is held every year from Feb. 7 to Feb. 14. “My mom has the bill hanging up in our house that was signed by (the late) Sen. Arlen Specter.”

In 1996, her parents created a CHD support group in Hershey, Pennsylvania, (her surgeries were performed at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital). The support group, Hershey Hearts, was designed to give hope to new parents of CHD babies. Support group members visit hospitals to talk with parents about what to expect in the coming months and years.

“When I was born, the only information CHD parents could get on the Internet were terrible stories about children passing away,” Reinsburrow said. “But that’s not really what’s happening. They’re improving the surgeries and the care, and children are surviving. We wanted a way to let parents know that.”

During semester breaks at IUP, Reinsburrow councils with CHD parents at regional hospitals in the Hershey area as a member of Hershey Hearts. She reassures parents that their child can progress to live a healthy, active life—just as she has.

“A lot of the time we’re just listening to parents about their worries and concerns,” she said. “Every situation is unique, so they have a lot of questions.” While attending IUP, she also replies to emails and phone calls from concerned CHD parents. Recently, she spoke about CHD with 72 of her IUP nursing peers during a nursing care of children theory class. “I told them, ‘Ask me anything.’”

Reinsburrow has an IUP tradition in the family—her mother is an IUP graduate.

“I chose IUP when I was nine, when we visited Indiana for a family reunion. We went to visit the university, and I said, ‘I’m going to IUP.’ It was done and settled.”

When she first started at IUP in 2012, she majored in education, but switched to nursing because of her early experience with nursing care. She hopes to become an emergency room trauma nurse.

“I’m thinking that becoming a nurse is paying it forward.”

—Beth Koop, Media Relations Student Writer