Foundation Funds Health Psychologist to Improve Lung Transplant Outcomes

When Danielle Henderson, PhD was growing up, she knew she had a knack for listening to people. What she couldn’t have predicted was how that talent would be put to work saving the lives of transplant patients.

Henderson is the inaugural fellow in the Indiana University Health Lung Transplant Psychology Fellowship. David Roe, MD, a pulmonologist at IU Health, collaborated with Yelena Chernyak, PhD, chief psychologist of the adult outpatient psychiatry clinic at the IU Health Neurosciences Center, to create the fellowship, using a grant from the Indiana University Health Foundation. Because IU Health is one of the nation’s top 10 lung transplant centers by volume, and the only one in the state of Indiana, Roe knows first-hand how depression and anxiety can dramatically affect a patient’s recovery and even survival.

Henderson says the real value of the fellowship is that it supports a psychologist whose sole focus is a patient’s emotions and concerns. She also knows other providers benefit from having someone to help when they see a patient in distress.

“I can be direct with patients when a family member might not be,” said Henderson. “I can lead patients through self-discovery by listening and reflecting back to the patient what they’ve said.”

Before a transplant, Henderson conducts a psychological evaluation with every patient. They discuss the procedure itself, plus the patient’s mental health, substance use and social support. Then Henderson recommends any necessary therapy or social services. “The best advice I give is on the pre-transplant side, when I caution they are trading one set of risks for another,” Henderson said.

Patients are not required to do a psychological evaluation post-transplant, but Henderson knows she can be useful then, too. “People say, ‘A transplant is harder than I thought it would be,’ or they ask me, ‘What do I do now?’” Henderson said. She counsels people to be patient, and helps them navigate the changes that come about due to pain, medications, time in the hospital, and shifting roles in the family. 

Henderson did her internship with Chernyak, who recommended that Henderson apply for the fellowship. “I jumped at the chance to work with Dr. Chernyak again,” said Henderson. “She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” After she completes the fellowship in August, Henderson will join Chernyak on the IU Medical School faculty.

“The fellowship has been rewarding and tremendous fun, because I am constantly learning, connecting with multi-disciplinary teams and learning from them,” said Henderson. “This experience has been an example of being in the place where you need to be.”

The IU Health Foundation can use your help to maintain funding for this fellowship and for other areas of greatest need at all 16 IU Health hospitals. Visit to learn how you can contribute to the programs and locations most important to you.