Astrid Heppenstall Heger, M.D.
Founder & Executive Director of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP)
Today, we pause to celebrate the importance of giving back through the story of one woman who has been a constant source of inspiration to us. Astrid Heppenstall Heger is the Founder and Executive Director of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) which is directly supported by our Lean Closet partners at H.E.A.R.T. She has devoted her life to delivering the highest-quality care to victims of family violence, and is a symbol of hope for the more than 25,000 supported by VIP each year.
Doctor Heger advocates for the appropriate diagnosis of children referred for possible abuse, as many are either not protected or improperly diagnosed. In 1984, she secured a clinic space that was the size of a child’s bedroom with only two part-time staff.
Through her deep desire to make a difference, VIP has grown into what it is today: a patient-sensitive network for support that takes an innovative approach to medical diagnosis, documentation, and treatment.
VIP has become the international standard of care, improving the safety and outcomes for all children. Doctor Heger has replicated her care model all over the world with great success. She sets an example of the immense impact one person can make when they are dedicated to improving the lives of others.
She is a symbol of hope for the more than 25,000 children and families supported each year.
We had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Doctor Heger at her LA office. Her incredible passion to help others has set the tone for us this holiday season, reminding us of its deeper purpose: the significance of human connection and support.
Why did you choose this specific career path?
The major factor in my decision to become a physician was the theme put forward by my parents that life should involve making choices that have an impact on individuals and potentially society as a whole. Medicine presented a unique opportunity to be involved on both fronts.
What are some of the obstacles that have presented themselves professionally?
First was being a woman in medicine at a time when there were few of us and I was also a mother of three during my residency. This required enormous levels of energy, as well as careful time and priority management. Second and probably more important in my career, was the challenge of making the issue of violence against both children and women an important priority in the field of medicine and the legal system. There is an ongoing differential in the quality and availability of services provided to victims of family violence and sexual assault, especially women.
How have the Lean Closet donations from Cuyana impacted your patients?
Can you imagine the women that I see who have nothing of quality to wear, or haven’t been given a chance to change their appearance? Then, there are the women and girls who come to the Sexual Assault Center and who have had to leave their clothes behind. These clothes make an impact.
What women have inspired you throughout your career?
I had no female mentors when I first began, there were so few in medicine at the time. Doctor Shirley Anderson was trying to start a program for sexually assaulted teens in Seattle and we became fast friends. She challenged me to stay in the field of child abuse, to think creatively and to never compromise patient care or the quality of scientific research. But my real inspiration comes from patients first and then from the women in this world who are the individuals taking on the challenges of abused children or women, one person at a time. I love their passion and commitment.
Do you have any advice for women who want to achieve something meaningful?
Define success not by income, but by how you make your life significant to others; never settle for average; think outside the box and practice your craft with a sense of generosity and unselfishness. Come to the end of your career knowing that you made a difference! Remember there is immense joy, even in the darkest corners of my world, in giving.
How else can we help?
Continue to deliver JOY and CARING as you do—each and every day.