College Town

According to research by an Assumption College professor and a local medical doctor, a number of cardiac patients have something in common with some combat veterans — post-traumatic stress disorder.

Leonard Doerfler, director of the Aaron T. Beck Institute for Cognitive Studies and a psychology professor at Assumption College, and Worcester-based medical doctor John A. Paraskos recently published a literature review on the link between life-threatening heart conditions and post-traumatic stress disorder.

By compiling the results of 19 studies, the duo found data indicating that approximately 15 percent of heart attack and cardiac surgery patients are likely to develop PTSD in the year after their cardiac arrest. Worse, this form of PTSD can often go unrecognized and undiagnosed.

Their analysis, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following Myocardial Infarction or Cardiac Surgery, was published in Heart and Mind: The Practice of Cardiac Psychology, a guide focused on the link between human behavior and cardiac health.

Their findings note that the onset of a cardiac event like a heart attack can share many features with other traumatic events, such as combat or violent assaults, known to lead to PTSD. For heart trauma victims, the disorder can then manifest in a variety of ways, such as anxiety, depression and “hyper vigilance” toward bodily sensations that trigger memories of their heart attack or other traumatic heart events.

College Town asked Mr. Doerfler a few questions about the study. Here are his replies:

QWhat made you decide to do this?

A“This was a chapter in an edited book, and I was asked to contribute a chapter to this book. I have worked with Dr. Paraskos for several years on research that examined the occurrence and characteristics of posttraumatic stress disorder in individuals who experience a heart attack or who undergo coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Because of my expertise in this area, I was asked to provide a review and summary of the scientific research in this area.”

QWhat was your part in this study?

A“I reviewed the information regarding the occurrence of posttraumatic stress disorder in cardiac patients, and the psychological research on the topic. Dr. Paraskos reviewed the medical issues, including medication issues for cardiac patients who develop this problem.”

QDoes this mean a heart trauma victim can have a panic attack just by being reminded of the past event when nothing is actually physically wrong?

A“Yes. A panic attack can occur with all the anxiety disorders, and individuals who experience posttraumatic stress disorder can experience a panic attack when they are reminded of the life-threatening event. For cardiac patients who develop posttraumatic stress disorder, thinking about their heart attack (or different experiences related to their heart attack, such as being resuscitated after the heart stops, catheterization or physical exercise that raises the person’s heart rate) can trigger a panic attack (or other symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder — such as intrusive thoughts about their experience).”

Mr. Doerfler further explained that some people misinterpret physical sensations as an indication of an impending heart attack or panic attack, and they can become a “cardiac cripple” due to their psychological distress, rather than because of medical limitations from their previous cardiac problems.

Because of its negative impact on quality of life, Mr. Doerfler and Dr. Paraskos’ review suggests that patients who experience traumatic heart problems and surgery should consider a screening for PTSD.

Six Assumption College alumni have received Outstanding Class Agent awards in recognition of their service and dedication as key volunteers representing their classes, providing leadership in raising gifts and increasing support to the Assumption Annual Fund. The award recipients are: Dan Micari and Lou D’Abramo, class of 1971; Richard J. Morelli, class of 1974; and Erica Mandeville, Jason Laperriere and Casey Hatten, class of 2006.

Becker College registration is open for 15 three-credit courses that can be completed during intersession, Dec. 21 through Jan. 11. All of the courses are offered online, in a compressed, three-week format. Courses cover a range of topics, including technology, intercultural communications, psychology, religion, history, English and writing. The last day to register is Dec. 14. More information is available by visiting

Also, Becker is making its nationally ranked computer game design program accessible to adults eager to break into the industry, by launching an online certificate program in game design. The six-course program begins by establishing a foundation in game design and programming, and moves on to illustration, animation, 3D modeling, and game production. More information is available at

Clark University will host CUREfest 2011 in support of AIDS Project Worcester from 1-6 p.m. Dec. 6 in Tilton Hall, second floor of the Higgins University Center, 950 Main St. The event will feature more than 30 vendors, raffle prizes, music, holiday shopping, food, crafts, local artists, family fun, unique gifts and local businesses. For more information, email

The strength and conditioning program at the College of the Holy Cross will conduct its fourth annual Benching for Breast Cancer event at 4 p.m. Friday in the Hart Center varsity weight room. The event is open to Holy Cross students. Working in teams of four, students who pay a participation fee solicit donation pledges based on how much weight they think they can lift. The costumed students compete against other teams lifting weights for prizes. Proceeds benefit Pink Revolution, a local charity committed to creating change in the lives of those touched by breast cancer. For more information, visit benching/.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute welcomed 16 new educators and researchers to its full-time faculty ranks this fall. They are: Shawn Burdette, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Laureen Elgert, assistant professor of social science and policy studies and environmental and sustainability studies; Mohamed Eltabakh, assistant professor of computer science; Marion Emmert, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Brenton Faber, professor of writing in the Department of Humanities and Arts and a professor in the School of Business; Arne Gericke, professor and head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Karen Hebert-Maccaro, associate dean and professor of practice in the School of Business; Anjana Jain, assistant professor of biomedical engineering; Sarah Olson, assistant professor of mathematical sciences; Adrienne Hall Phillips, assistant professor in the School of Business; Craig Shue, assistant professor of computer science; LTC Ciro Stefano, professor and head of the Department of Military Science; William Stitt, professor of practice in the School of Business and executive director of WPI’s new Innovator’s MBA; Andrew Trapp, assistant professor in the School of Business; Qi Wen, assistant professor of physics; and Keith Zizza, professor of practice in interactive media and game development.

Twenty-five percent of the newly welcomed faculty members are involved in the School of Business, which has recently received accolades from Business Week. The publication has ranked WPI number one in the Northeast for its part-time Master of Business Administration program — known as the Innovator’s MBA — and number eight in the nation. The Innovator’s MBA has been rated number one in the Northeast by Business Week for five consecutive years.

In its 2011 ratings of part-time MBA programs, published Nov. 10, Business Week based its findings on completion rates, GMAT scores, work experience, selectivity and tenured faculty.

The Worcester State University Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement will host a Holiday Gift and Art Auction to support student scholarships at 6 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Student Center Blue Lounge. Keynote speaker Charlie Rose, a founding board member and current dean of the City Year program, will speak on “ 20/20 Vision” following dinner and music by acoustic duo Julius and Joe. The auction will begin at 8 p.m. and will feature more than 50 items.

Cost of the dinner is $20, with checks made payable to the Worcester State Foundation. Auction proceeds will benefit The McCarthy Coyle Wagner Scholarship for Student Community Activism. For more information, contact Mark Wagner at or (508) 929-8635.



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