New Year, New Life 12-Day Retreat

Learn More

Ornish Living: Feel better, love better

Sections

Get StartedOr call 1-877-888-3091

Love Your Life.

Start Feeling Better Now

Subscribe Now

Name: Gil E.

Age: 54

Ornish Location: THR Arlington

Health Challenges: Mild heart attack, overweight, diabetes.

Greatest Motivation: My granddaughter said, “My Papa is going to walk me down the aisle.” “Who?” the other girls asked. My granddaughter gestured at me, and the other girls remarked in surprised tones that they’d always thought that I was her father. “Well,” my granddaughter replied, “he kinda does that too.” That moment captures all of the motivation and validation I’ll ever need. Thanks in large part to the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program, I’ll be there at that wedding, walking her down the aisle just like she predicted. To me, that’s everything.

His story: About two years ago, my daughter was going through a separation and was in danger of losing custody of her daughter. To help her I got some lawyers involved and began to fight the custody decision. Although the lawyers did a great job, they were undeniably expensive, and I spent a considerable amount of money on them in a short period of time—far more money than I was able to spend. To compensate, I took on a second job and began working two 8-hour shifts every day—one at each job. That’s when my health began to suffer. During that time period, I continued to eat the foods I’d always enjoyed, but stopped burning any calories; I completely stopped exercising in order to make time for my jobs, and my days consisted of going to my home office, showering, eating, and dealing with lawyers. But I didn’t care—I kept telling myself that “this what parents do. They sacrifice whatever it takes to help their kids.” So I continued down that same path.

“I’m running every day, rock climbing again, and doing work on my house like I used to”

After about a year of that lifestyle, I realized that I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without stopping to catch my breath. I dismissed the issue as a simple weight problem, and figured I could get better quickly if need be, but my problems turned out to be far more severe than that. When I saw my doctor, he grew rather alarmed, and told me that my heart sounded like it was working extremely hard even when I was completely at rest. He then administered an EKG, and afterwards, told me that he was sending me to the hospital immediately. “What for?” I asked. “I suspect you’ve already had a heart attack,” he replied.

Honestly, I didn’t believe him at first, but when we went to the hospital, we not only found out that he was right about the heart attack, but also that the two main arteries in my heart had become blocked. In response, the cardiologist tried to put four stents in, but only two of them took. When I awoke from the anesthesia, the doctors told me that I had two choices: 1) try to insert stents using another, more dangerous procedure, or 2) undergo open heart surgery. I asked the doctor how long the recovery time would be if I had open heart surgery, and he said “4 to 6 months, if everything went well.” With everything that I had going on, I knew that, financially, there was no way I could make it through 4-6 months without working. So, I told the doctor, “The stents have to work.”

He nodded in understanding and excused himself. Thirty minutes later, when the priest from my parish showed up, I realized that the doctor had summoned him to administer precautionary last rites. That was when I finally realized the severity of my situation. I knew, and have always known, what last rites mean: you could be dead tomorrow. It was scary. As a manager, and a problem solver, I’m usually in control; in this, I had no control. Shortly after the priest left, I underwent the procedure.

Luckily, the last rites were premature; the procedure went well, and after about a week and a half, I was already feeling a lot better. Before I was released from the hospital, someone from the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) came in and told me what I needed to do to permanently and sustainably get better. The program’s lifestyle changes seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but my wife chimed in and said—with an air of finality—that “he’s going to do whatever you tell him to do.” So I did. No point arguing there.

Enrolling turned out to be exactly the right decision. Since the day the program started, everything has changed. In about three weeks, I shed almost all of the weight that I’d gained in the previous year, and today, I’m down to 192 pounds—64 pounds less than I weighed when I started the program. On top of that, I’ve reduced nearly all of my medications, and my blood sugar has decreased from 120 to 86. I’m running every day, rock climbing again, and doing work on my house like I used to. Everything has changed for the better—everything.

Eventually, I was successful in obtaining custody of my granddaughter, and my daughter worked through her personal issues—she even completed her degree a few months ago. Both of them now live with me and are doing great. In fact, my whole family has been following the program along with me, and their support has played a big role in helping me regain my health.

Since I’ve been feeling better, I’ve also been able to spend more time with them than ever before. During one of our outings, I distinctly remember my granddaughter asking—in her young, curious, unfiltered thought process—“Papa, is something wrong? You never used to do this stuff with us before.” I laughed and told her that no, perhaps more so than ever before, there was definitely nothing wrong.

When I think of my motivation for the future, another comment from my granddaughter comes to mind. The two of us have grown very close over the past few years, and these days, I go to lunch with her once a week at her school. During the lunches, the girls that we sit with often chat about their lives like little grownups, and on this particular occasion, because of something they’d seen on TV, they were discussing marriage. One girl said, “My dad is going to walk me down the aisle,” another said, “Mine is going to send us on a whirlwind honeymoon,” and so on—I remember thinking that it was quite a conversation for a bunch of 9 year olds. But then, my granddaughter spoke up and said, “My Papa is going to walk me down the aisle.”

“Who?” the other girls asked. My granddaughter gestured at me, and the other girls remarked in surprised tones that they’d always thought that I was her father. “Well,” my granddaughter replied, “he kinda does that too.”

That moment captures all of the motivation and validation I’ll ever need. Thanks in large part to the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program, I’ll be there at that wedding, walking her down the aisle just like she predicted. To me, that’s everything.

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

What is your Ornish story?

Share your Story

Better Health Begins With You...

Comment 0

Launch Your New Year

Join Dr. Dean Ornish for a transformative, all-inclusive retreat.

Learn More