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Name: Steve W.

Age: 58

Location: Hamot (Legacy Site)

Health Challenge: Heart failure. Heart transplant. Diabetes.

Greatest Motivation: “When I started the program I set a goal for myself: I wanted to participate and medal in the Transplant Games of America. I strove for that goal, followed the program, and did everything that I needed to do. Then, towards the end of the program, I went to Michigan, competed, and brought home a gold and a silver medal. I accomplished my goal.”

His Story: At age 41, I was diagnosed with non-ischemic cardio myopathy, which is congestive heart failure. For the next 12 years I was able to manage my condition with medication, although my heart was only operating at 15 percent of capacity. But then, in December of 2009, the medications stopped working and my heart started pumping at only 5 percent of capacity. I almost died on Christmas Eve.

“As soon as I started the Ornish program, I started losing weight and feeling better.”

Those days were my lowest point. I couldn’t breathe, I just couldn’t do it. I’d spend entire days stretched out on the couch trying desperately to catch my breath but never succeeding. Imagine trying to take a deep breath through a straw while holding your nose—that’s what it was like. But my problems didn’t end with the breathing. I had to wear a belt that pumped medicine into my shoulder 24-7, which literally kept me alive. I had a hard time walking the ten steps up to my house and I couldn’t walk up the driveway. I had oxygen tanks littered throughout the house. I remembering wondering, “Is this it? Is this all I have left?”

Shortly after, I went to the hospital and the doctor told me that I had two options. “First,” he said, “you can keep trying to stay above water with medications, but you’ll die within the year. Second, you can get a heart transplant.” I remember crying when he told me that, wondering “How did I get here? How has my life come to this point? What happened?” I just couldn’t believe—didn’t want to believe—the words that were coming out of the doctor’s mouth.

After a week of deliberation and prayer with my wife, I told the doctor that I wanted the transplant and he put me on the list. Shortly thereafter, on my birthday, I found out that I was getting a heart. The next morning I had the transplant and a few weeks later I was home. The surgery went amazingly well; just 2.5 months later I was back at work as if nothing had ever happened. But I felt so good that I started eating again—and I kept eating and eating. I wasn’t exercising either. In a short period of time I gained about 40 pounds and my heart statistics started to slip. I wasn’t taking care of the heart the way I should have been, and the doctor warned me that if I didn’t make a change, I’d be at risk of reliving the whole ordeal. I didn’twant that. So I looked at my wife and promised that by my next doctor’s visit, things would be different.

That’s when I got into the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation). As soon as I started the Ornish program, I started losing weight and feeling better. The program kept track of all of my general health statistics and the difference was truly unbelievable. They took my blood work, they weighed me, they measured my BMI, and after just a few months, the improvement was staggering— every statistic was better.

Right around then, it was time for me to go back to the doctor for my regular three month check-in. I was excited; I knew I had fulfilled my promise. When the day finally came for the appointment, the doctor’s reaction didn’t disappoint; he looked at my new statistics, and then he looked at my old statistics, and then he brought the new statistics right up to his face to make sure he was reading it right! Then he looked up, incredulously, and said “What did you do? Holy cow, what did you do?” He was floored. Beaming, I told him that I was a part of the Ornish program and that I changed my lifestyle. That was my most rewarding moment. I mean, that’s what the doctor does for a living—he compares people’s statistics—and to have him eyeball me like I was an alien, totally amazed, was a great feeling. I blew the doctor away. I blew him away. That’s when I knew that the program worked. That’s when I realized there were no limits on what I could do.

I felt so much better. The program really got me back on track with what I needed to do to stay healthy. I followed it strictly, I started running 5k races, and I enjoyed each of the components. I felt healthy. I felt phenomenal. And now, three years later, I still do. The transformation has been amazing. Back in 2009, I really thought that I was going to die—I was ready for it. I couldn’t even remember what living a normal life was at that point. I remember thinking “what kind of existence is this?” I never thought, never dreamed, that my life would be like this again. Before the program I was taking 12 medications and now I’m only taking four—and the daily quantity of those four has dropped significantly. It’s been an amazing transformation from asking myself “is this all I have left?” to where I am today.

The program and my improved health have also allowed me rediscover some of my passions, particularly regarding athletics. I always knew that my athletic ability was there, but I was never really able to dig down and access it before the program. So when I started the program I set a goal for myself: I wanted to participate and medal in the Transplant Games of America. I strove for that goal, followed the program, and did everything that I needed to do. Then, towards the end of the program, I went to Michigan, competed, and brought home a gold and a silver medal. I accomplished my goal.

This year, I’m competing in several more events—5 swimming events, 2 track and field events, and 1 doubles tennis event, which we’re actually favored to win. My journey from lying around trying to catch my breath to actually achieving something has been so rewarding. I’m living my life as if I never had a transplant. I have no restrictions. I owe that success to the discipline and the format of the Ornish program.

My advice to anyone who is thinking of joining the program is to just go for it. Give it 90 days. It will absolutely change everything you know about what your body can do. It will change your whole life. I’d be shocked if you didn’t drop any medicines that you’re taking. You’ll also see a phenomenal change in your lifestyle, your feelings, and your health. You’ll be doing things that you didn’t think that you’d be able to do. You’ll be amazed like I was.

Ultimately, my life would be very different if I had never joined the Ornish program. I’m more self-disciplined today—in my diet, my exercise—in everything. It’s even helped keep my diabetes under control, which has always been a source of frustration. Without the program, my life would be all over the place. I don’t even know if I’d be alive today, and I certainly wouldn’t be living a lifestyle that I truly enjoy. Right now, everything is in line, everything is where it needs to be. I’m better off than when I had my old heart 20 years ago. It’s made quite a difference. Quite a difference.

Really, I owe all of this to the donor family. I don’t know whose heart I have. I don’t know if it’s from a young person or old person, male or female. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I need to respect the gift—to keep the heart healthy. And the Ornish program has allowed me to do that. It’s exactly what I need and it’s exactly what the donor’s family deserves. I’m so thankful for the Ornish program. I’m so thankful for my life.

 

 

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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