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Name: Benjamin L

Age: 50 Years old

Location: UCLA Health

Health Challenges: Heart Attack, Family History of Heart

Greatest Motivation: Ultimately, going through the program gives you a new perspective on life. I appreciate things more since I started it, and it keeps me focused on my bottom line. For me, the bottom line is that I don’t want to have another heart attack. A few months ago, the question was “when will I have another heart attack?” Now, the question is “if  I have another heart attack.” And I’m confident that, with the help of the program, I can complete the cycle—from “when,” to “if,” to “never.” That means a lot.

His Story: In the late afternoon of June 23rd, I was on the treadmill in the middle of my 5 mile run. When I reached the three-mile mark, I started to feel chest pain—and it wasn’t any kind of chest pain that I’d had before. It was radiating to my left arm. I was in the medical field prior to becoming a police officer, so I knew that that type of pain was one of the classic symptoms of a heart attack, but I didn’t really put two and two together. So I hopped off the treadmill, helped my girlfriend with the yard work, went to sleep, and the next day I went to work—all things that I would do on a normal day. But the pain persisted. Finally, I asked one of my detectives to drive me to the hospital around midday the next day. The pain just wasn’t going away.

“I really believe that the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program will help me make sure that I’m not going anywhere for a long time.”

At the hospital, they told me that I was having a heart attack, and I was shocked. Well, I guess I wasn’t totally shocked. I’ve always stayed in good shape and I exercise very often—I was in the military for most of my adult life—so I didn’t expect to have heart disease. But my dad died of a massive heart attack when he was 49, and I always figured that if I could make it past 49, I’d be in the clear. But there I was; 49 years old and having a heart attack—just like him.

During the catheterization, they also found out that my left coronary artery was 90 percent blocked, so they put a stent in, and my right coronary artery was about 30/40 percent blocked, but they left that one alone. I could hardly believe what they were telling me. After regrouping from hearing the initial diagnosis, I told the cardiologist that I’d do whatever it takes to get better—“just tell me when and where to show up.” A few days later, I got a call about the Ornish LIfestyle Medicine Program, (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) and enrolled.

Fast forward to the fifth week of the program. During our stress management session, I started having chest pain, but I didn’t say anything to anyone. “How,” I wondered “could I be having a heart attack if I’m already following the program?” But again, it persisted, so the next morning my fiancée and I went to the hospital. At the hospital, my cardiologist told me that the pain could be from one of three things: the stent had failed, the 30-40% blockage had gotten worse, or the muscles around the heart were in spasm. But when the doctors went into my heart, they not only found that my heart disease hadn’t progressed, and that the stent hadn’t failed, but that the 30-40 percent blockage in my artery had all but disappeared after just 5 weeks on the program. 5 weeks. It turned out that I was in pain because I was on the wrong medication, so the doctors switched my medication and I haven’t had any pain since. On top of that, I’ve lost over 30 pounds on the program. It’s been exactly what I needed; 5 weeks for reversal is—my doctors assure me—pretty amazing.

One analogy that I like to use for the program is that it’s like my police belt—it gives participants the tools we need for any situation, and it teaches us how to use them. The teaching is important; in the Department, they didn’t just give us our gun, and our handcuffs, our baton, and our pepper spray and say, “okay, get out there!” They taught us where those things are on the belt and how to use them appropriately. That’s exactly what the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program does for us participants; it gives us the tools—nutrition, stress management, group support, and exercise—and teaches us how to use them. So reversal is in the participants’ hands, my hands, not anyone else’s—which is empowering.

It also about re-taking control; police officers want to be in control at all times, and I’m no exception. But when you’re sick, and don’t have many options, you don’t have that control—over your health, your future, your anything. Well, by giving me the tools, this program has given me back control of my health. I’m really thankful for that.

Ultimately, going through the program gives you a new perspective on life. I appreciate things more since I started it, and it keeps me focused on my bottom line. For me, the bottom line is that I don’t want to have another heart attack. A few months ago, the question was “when will I have another heart attack?” Now, the question is “if I will have another heart attack.” And I’m confident that, with the help of the program, I can complete the cycle—from “when,” to “if,” to “never.” That means a lot.

Moving forward, I will continue to follow this program for the rest of my life, and I’ll do that because of everything I have to live for. Number one, my mother is 83, and she’s already buried a son, and I don’t want her to bury another before her time. Number two, I have three children, and I want to see my daughters walk down the aisle. Number three, I have a granddaughter and I want to see her success in life. Number four, I want to be here with my fiancée; we have plans—lots of them—and I fully intend to follow through on them. So I have a lot to be around for, and I really believe that the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program will help me make sure that I’m not going anywhere for a long time. If you go into it with an open mind, I know that it can do the same for you.

 

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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