Susan Gruen Helsinger, MRP, SRES, sells real estate to enhance
the quality of people’s lives. On the side, she’s dedicated to
Three years ago, Kaitlyn Paeth from Merrick, N. Y., was
diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of
the heart muscle that makes it di;cult for the heart to pump
blood. Kaitlyn was 14 at the time, and the only reason her
condition was caught was because she had received a free heart
screening at her school. She’s one of 72 children who have been
diagnosed with a cardiac abnormality because of Helsinger’s
work as the founder of the Jason F. Gruen Research Foundation.
Kaitlyn’s condition, although treatable, isn’t curable, and
it puts her at a high risk for cardiac arrest. It’s similar to the
condition that killed Helsinger’s own son Jason in 1985. Jason
was 15 when he collapsed walking into his first-period class. By
the time she arrived at the hospital, Jason was gone.
A day later, Helsinger found herself in Jason’s closet picking
out his burial clothes. Sobbing as she sat on the floor, Helsinger
vowed she would do something to try to prevent this kind of
tragedy from happening to other families.
Hope out of Tragedy
Helsinger came up with a plan. Her can-do spirit, along with her
prior experience as a business owner and—coincidentally—a
cardiology nurse, helped get it into motion. In 1986 she started a
foundation using donations made in Jason’s memory.
Her first action that year was funding a research grant to
study cardiac abnormalities and sudden death in young adults
at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, N. J.
“My dream is for everyone to have the ability to get an EKG or
echocardiogram in the U. S.,” says Helsinger, associate broker at
Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Merrick. “If Jason had had that,
at least we would have known and would have been able to take
action with medications and procedures.”
In 1988, Dr. Welton Gersony, then director of the Pediatric
Cardiology Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, sought
support from Helsinger for the planned Children’s Heart Center
at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. After her foundation
signed on, other nonprofits and corporate backers got on board.
Within two years, the world-class facility opened its doors.
Dr. Rubin Cooper, chief of pediatric cardiology at Cohen
Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park on Long Island,
credits Helsinger for keeping the cardiology lab’s equipment
up-to-date for the 13,000 children the hospital sees annually. “It
can be lifesaving,” Cooper says. “If you can find something that
can be surgically treated or medically evaded, you can lengthen
[that person’s] lifespan.” Over the past 30 years, Helsinger has
raised more than $2 million toward these e;orts.
Saving One Life at a Time
Helsinger’s greatest passion is to help identify cardiac
issues in children before they pose an immediate threat. For
nine years, she has been coordinating and funding optional
echocardiogram screenings of eighth and ninth graders in New
York–area public schools. “During the very first screening [in
2007], we found children with abnormalities,” Helsinger says.
“That sort of smacked everyone in the face.”
In all, 2,200 children have been screened. “We never thought
they’d find anything wrong with her,” says Kaitlyn’s mother,
Dolores Paeth. “If it wasn’t for Susan’s foundation and the
testing, we may not have found out until it was too late.”
Kaitlyn, now 17, has learned to cope with her heart condition.
She takes a beta blocker to relax her heart muscle, and she
limits her participation in physically strenuous activities.
Helsinger’s e;orts to obtain screening equipment and
raise awareness are relentless. “After Jason died,” Helsinger
says, “my soul was broken.” And although it will never be
fully repaired, helping children like Kaitlyn has filled her with
purpose—and provided evidence of the powerful impact that
Jason’s short life has had on others.
Contact Helsinger at firstname.lastname@example.org and the Jason F. Gruen
Research Foundation at thejasongruenfoundation.org.
A Commitment to Healing Hearts
BY ERICA CHRISTOFFER
mission to help children with dangerous cardiac issues.
SUSAN GRUEN HELSINGER MERRICK, N.Y. | DOUGLAS ELLIMAN REAL ESTATE
REALTORMAG. REALTOR.ORG REALTOR® NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016 27