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Name: Cliff L.

Age: 69 years old

Ornish Location: St. Vincent’s HealthCare

Health Challenges: Heart Transplant in July of 1995

Greatest Motivation: My wife has been the best thing for my success in this program; she is extremely supportive and I love and appreciate her for that.

His Story: I first heard about the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) about 20 years ago when I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. The doctors told me that if my heart continued to enlarge, then I’d have a heart attack that I couldn’t come back from. I had to have a heart transplant.

Changing your diet will be enjoyable—just give yourself time to re-learn how to eat and enjoy plant based meals

My wife and I originally learned about the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program from a book by Dr. Ornish, but found that we needed additional guidance and assistance to do it on our own. At that time, the program was only available in California, and—because of timing and economics—I wasn’t able to make that work. But then, four or five months ago, I heard a radio advertisement about the program coming to St. Vincent’s and seized my opportunity to enroll.

Prior to starting the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program, I probably ate better than the average carnivore, but certainly not as well as I do now. I am lucky enough to be married to someone who loves to cook, and she has gone out of her way to experiment with foods, read labels, and come up with new, Ornish-approved ways of cooking and foods to eat. If she wasn’t here, then I may have been able to do this on my own—but I probably would’ve been eating oatmeal three times a day, maybe a carrot once or twice a week, and throwing in a small piece of celery from time-to-time for balance!

My biggest benefit has been total support from my wife, daughter, son, friends, relatives, and the Ornish staff. I haven’t had anyone say, “eat this,” “try that,” or “just a little bit won’t hurt!” My daughter, for example, has always enjoyed plant-based foods, and her young children have mostly been raised on a plant-based diet. She is particularly glad that I am on a plant-based program because I’m no longer fussing that her boys don’t get enough protein. Now, I know that they’re just fine and that I’d been wrong for all those years. She also loves that I am losing weight.

My weight had remained constant between my transplant and the beginning of the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program, but since I started the program, I have lost 28 pounds; I’m averaging about one pound a week, and I’m at my lowest weight in 30 years. Also, right now, my blood work is excellent. I am no longer on my cholesterol medication or depression medication. Plus, I have reduced my blood pressure medication by 50%.

I’ve really enjoyed all aspects of the program—especially the stress management and group support. During the stress management session, our instructor taught us the importance of relaxation and how to achieve it. The group support session really helped me learn new techniques for how to talk, communicate and express myself. I learned, for example, that we can either tell ourselves all kinds of bad things, or we can learn to be kind and gentle with ourselves—and the program helped me shift from the first mindset to the second. Also, I knew how to relax and do visualization before the program, but having direct instruction has really helped.

I wanted to continue to be a part of the program after graduation, so I now volunteer to support other classes. Also, since I exercise every day in the Ornish facility, I can go to the classes and be there as a ‘regular person’ to support the new cohorts. I enjoy the interaction. Sometimes I’m there for the meal, sometimes I’m there for exercise, and sometimes I’m just there to chat. It’s helpful because the new cohorts can see how well I’m doing and ask about my progress.

To anyone who is interested in joining the program, I’d say that at first, the program is scary because you are going to be losing some friends: the foods that you’re used to eating. But the foods that most people eat are not real friends—they just feel like friends—and it takes time to realize that. Furthermore, I’d say that changing your diet will be enjoyable—just give yourself time to re-learn how to eat and enjoy plant based meals. In fact, just last week my wife made a dinner and I couldn’t believe how good it was. Six months ago, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. My palate has changed and I am amazed!

In conclusion, I’d like to encourage people to join with someone who is going to be supportive of their efforts to get healthy. My wife has been the best thing for my success in this program; she is extremely supportive and I love and appreciate her for that.

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