Nurse practitioner has a heart for healthcare

Rexanna Tatlock works as a nurse practitioner for IU Health Arnett Cardiology. She also has a husband and son who were diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that affects the collagen in their bodies.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

Ask Rexanna Tatlock about the beginnings of her career in healthcare and she talks about the heart – not just the heart of her profession but also the hearts of her loved ones.

A native of Southern Indiana, Tatlock started her career working as a certified nursing assistant caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. She became a registered nurse in 2003 and worked in cardiovascular intensive care for seven years. She switched to interventional radiology but missed the bedside care so furthered her training as a resource nurse and began traveling between five ICUs and the ER.

At the time she and her husband, Scott, were living in Peoria, Ill. where he worked for Caterpillar, Inc. They have a son, Ethan, 10. She joined IU Health in 2013.

When Ethan was five months old, Scott was diagnosed with a heart murmur followed by heart surgery. “It was a very long recovery and a year later both my son and my husband were diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type I,” said Tatlock, named after her father “Rex.” It was her mother Glena Engleking who suggested early on that Tatlock would make a good nurse because she has a good heart. She became a nurse practitioner in May of 2018.

The connection between Tatlock’s career and her husband’s heart condition was somewhat serendipitous, but she knew the warning signs of possible cardiovascular conditions.

“I think the good Lord took care of that and helped me identify his heart murmur,” said Tatlock. When both her son and husband were diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) Tatlock was by their side as several specialists helped navigate the path to treatment. That treatment eventually led them back to Indiana to be closer to IU Health Riley Hospital for Children. Because it’s rare for adults to be diagnosed, Scott was initially treated at Riley Hospital.

The disease is generally associated with fragile bones and the severity of OI varies among family members. It is generally identified when multiple bone fractures occur during childhood through puberty. It’s estimated that OI Type I occurs in one in 30,000 births. Treatment is aimed at specific symptoms and may include physical therapy and exercise along with medications. Her husband has only broken a few bones and had his first fracture at the age of five. Her son began breaking bones when he was just over a year old and by the age of 10 had 14 fractures and four surgeries.

“It’s a collagen deficiency and includes the heart, eyes – anywhere there is collagen. It’s rare to affect the heart because only about 12 percent who are diagnosed have heart issues which is why it took awhile to diagnose my husband,” said Tatlock, who co-authored an article in the June 2018 issue of the Journal of Nurse Practitioners,”Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type I: Recognition in Primary Care.”

In the past 10 years, Scott has undergone procedures for valve replacement and continues to have yearly infusions at IU Arnett Cancer Care. Both Scott and Ethan are under the care of endocrinologist Dr. Erik Imel.

“When my husband needed open heart surgery I saw what it was like to be a patient and having a loved one looking up from a hospital bed,” said Tatlock. “It’s scary and it’s uncertain. It changed how I practiced as a nurse. I now understand the fear and what it’s like to be exhausted. My heart was in it in a different way.”

On any given day, Tatlock meets with new patients who may have symptoms of heart disease or those she saw in the hospital who are coming in for follow up visits.

“The heart has always fascinated me,” said Tatlock. “It’s a complex care and you really need to understand how the heart affects other body systems and how other body systems impact the heart.”

How does she know she’s chosen the right field?

“I recently had a patient who gave me a genuine hug and got teary eyed and thanked me for taking care of her,” said Tatlock. “That genuine gratitude made me go home and feel really good about what I’d done that day. It’s not that I’d done something heroic, but she was grateful. It’s nice to know that I have that kind of impact on someone and help when they need it.”