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Name: Christian D.

Age: 37 

Ornish Site: Hunterdon Medical Center

Health Challenges: Mild heart attack, family history of heart disease

Greatest Motivation: Moving forward, I have two main goals. The first goal, as I alluded to earlier, is to be healthy enough to support and spend meaningful time with my family. The second goal is to do an Alzheimer’s walk. My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year, and it’d mean so much to me to do one of those walks for him

C_Duncan

I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy guy; I played sports in high school and took decent care of myself afterwards, but as time went on, I began to spend more and more time at work and less and less time being active—and that affected my health. Work took such a steep toll on me because I used to travel nearly 100% of the time; I’d fly out to a client on Monday morning, fly home Thursday evening, and then do that again for 6 months in a row. Then I’d switch clients and repeat the process. On those trips, we’d get a per diem for food and I’d spend it no matter what. Some days I’d even find myself spending $30 on one meal at a fast food place, which is not easy to do. Plus, due to our long hours, healthy restaurants weren’t open by the time we got out of work—which led us right back to the fast food places. I’d try to break out of the cycle every once in awhile, and I even thought about exercising from time to time, but I can count on my fingers and toes how many times I actually made it to one of those hotel gyms. Eventually, things began to snowball on me.

Our treadmill had five inches of dust on it before the program, but now I use it nearly every day

After years of that same routine, I began to feel chest pains when performing simple, everyday tasks. Putting my carry-on luggage in the overhead bins, walking upstairs, going to my hotel room—all of it bothered me. I ignored the problem for a while, but I could tell that something was wrong. Then, it all caught up to me. I was at a wedding, and even though I love to get on the dancefloor and do my thing, I couldn’t bring myself to dance. That’s how bad I was feeling. The very next night I woke up with shortness of breath, cold sweats, chest pains, heart palpitations—the whole nine yards. I went to the ER and they told me that I’d had a mild heart attack at 37 years old. I was shocked and scared.

As it turned out, the doctors discovered that I had a hereditary condition caused by a (previously unknown) family history of heart disease. Even with that explanation, the news was daunting; I have two daughters, and the thought that I might not be here to support my family was unacceptable. It was a wakeup call for me and I seized the opportunity; I changed my diet and exercise plan, started working from home, and eventually enrolled in the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program. (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation)

I was initially drawn to the program because it focuses on four elements of lifestyle change (group support, stress management, nutrition, and exercise) rather than just one or two. I was a bit apprehensive about my age, though; I knew coming in that I’d be the youngest participant in the program by about ten years, and that worried me. But I brought up my age in a very real and open way during our first group support session, and from then on, my apprehension was gone. In fact, we all became friends. I’ve found that—as you get older and move around—it becomes harder and harder to meet friends. So it was cool to say that, at the end of the program, I now have friends in my community.

Community was certainly not the program’s only benefit, though; I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds since my heart attack in September (I’m having to poke new holes in my belts), and I have way more stamina than I did before the program. It’s just so cool to just have my wind back—to be able to jog, be able to lift weights, be able do all of that. Our treadmill had probably gathered about five inches of dust on it before the program started, but now I use it nearly every day. The program really hasn’t been hard either. I’ve always loved meat and cooking, but I actually think that the nutrition aspect of the program has been the easiest part. All in all, I love the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program.

Moving forward, I have two main goals. The first goal, as I alluded to earlier, is to be healthy enough to support and spend meaningful time with my family. The second goal is to do an Alzheimer’s walk. My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year, and it’d mean so much to me to do one of those walks for him. In fact, both of those goals mean the world to me, and I’m very grateful that the program has put me in a position to bring them both to life.

Lastly, to anyone who is thinking about joining the program, I’d urge you to do it—no matter the circumstances. Look at me, for example. A few years ago, I tried out for The Biggest Loser because I didn’t think I could improve my health if I wasn’t dedicating 1000% of my life to a television show for a couple months. But this program showed me that—by just making small changes in your life—you can really turn things around. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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