Alumni Profile

Astrid Heger '64

Refilling Her Well Three-degree alumna Astrid Heppsenstall Heger B.S ’64, M.S. ’65, M.D. ’72, has not lacked recognition during her long career of service to others. She has, for example, been

given the highest federal award for helping crime victims from the U.S. Department of Justice, presented by Attorney General Janet Reno. And she has had a sit-down meeting with Vice President Al Gore.
Recently, however, Heger has been recognized in a way she finds even more gratifying. As associate professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, she was selected by the school’s class of 2000 as the Kaiser-Permanente Excellence in Teaching Award recipient for the Basic Science Years. The graduating class, along with faculty colleagues, also chose her to receive the 2000 Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey Humanism in Medicine Award for a faculty member.

Astrid Heger, flanked by Kala Parker, left, and Candace Myhre, members of the Keck School of Medicine of USC class of 2000, at graduation ceremonies.

“I’m so very proud of these awards. What they represent is my reason for being here: to be of service,” says Heger, “to take care of patients and to teach. I challenge my students to really ask themselves why they want to become doctors.”
An internationally recognized expert on the medical diagnosis of child abuse and sexual assault in all ages, Heger has treated more than 19,000 victims of physical and sexual abuse since founding USC’s Center for the Vulnerable Child 16 years ago. The center is now part of the larger Violence Intervention Program, which provides multidisciplinary interventions for all victims of abuse, neglect, sexual assault and domestic violence.
Staff members at the center, which is housed by the LAC+USC’s Women and Children’s Hospital, offer evaluation and care of children from throughout the country 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

HEGER'S TIES TO USC are long – and familial. While completing her last year in medical school, she and classmate-husband Joel Heger ’68, MD ’72, were expecting their first-born, Andy.
Joining the medical faculty a few years later, Heger, moved by the precious experience of motherhood, quickly established the Center for the Vulnerable Child, now a model system for service to child victims of physical abuse and sexual assault.
Heger’s father, Edward Heppenstall, graduated from USC in 1955 with a Ph.D. degree in religion. One of her three sons, Christian (Erik is the other), is an alumnus, class of ’99. Husband Joel is an alum, as well as currently professor of clinical medicine at USC. Holding down the family home is a golden retriever named Tommy (as in Trojan).
Her work, she admits, “is difficult because many people don’t want to touch it. They don’t want to lift the rock.”
All the more reason to savor her recent awards from her medical students. “Their placing value on what I do, and recognizing the importance of stopping violence against the most vulnerable,” says Heger, “puts a great deal of water back into my well.”


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Astrid Heger '64

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Photograph by Michael Chiabaudo

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