Helene was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. She received her B.A. from Barnard College of Columbia University, New York, her M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and M.P.H. from Johns Hopkins University. Helene is board certified in Pediatrics, completing a residency in Pediatric Medicine at the Children's Hospital National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
After completing her residency, she rose through the ranks at CDC to become the first director of the Director for the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, (NCHSTP), at that time CDC's largest Center. Her work on HIV/AIDS issues has focused on women, children, adolescents, U.S. minorities and international populations. On assignment from CDC, Helene also served as the AIDS Coordinator and Chief of the HIV/AIDS Division for the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Helene has published numerous articles on public health, especially related to HIV/AIDS and has received many awards for her scientific and public health contributions. She attained the rank of Rear Admiral (Assistant Surgeon General) in the US Public Health Service. She is also on the boards of the Institute of Medicine and the Council on Foreign Relations.