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Name: Ralph J.

Age: 62

Location: CAMC 

Health Challenge: Coronary artery disease, quadruple bypasses surgery, diabetes, and hypertension.

Greatest Motivation: I enjoy what I’m doing at the time that I’m doing it. If, for example, I’m playing golf for four hours, the world could end, and I would still finish the round. I’ve learned to be in the moment. It feels great.

In July of 2013, around midnight, I woke up and felt a pain I hadn’t experienced before. I figured that it was just indigestion, so I drank something that I thought would relieve the pressure. It didn’t, so I ended up in the ER. After an EKG, a nuclear stress test, an echocardiogram, and finally a heart catheterization—which is when the doctors finally found the cause of the pain–I was advised I had an artery that was 99% blocked, one that was 80% blocked, and two nearly 60% blocked. I needed quadruple bypass surgery. The doctors also told me for the first time in my life that I had type 2 diabetes, which had contributed to the blockages. It was a lot to take in. I was facing open-heart surgery, and I was scared!

“My family brings me tremendous joy, and I believe this program will give me as much time with them as possible.”

The doctors originally decided to do the surgery the following Wednesday, but the heart surgeon asked me if it was alright to move the date up to Saturday. Having worked in law firms for my whole life, I understood his meaning. He was concerned that something bad might happen between Saturday and Wednesday, so I agreed. The bypass surgery seemed to go well. I went home a few days later and began my cardiac rehab. I met with a dietician to find out how to eat for diabetes. I had lost weight and was feeling better.

Nine months later, during a routine stress test, I found out that three of the four bypasses had collapsed. Another catherization was done and three stents were put in, end to end, to open up the blocked artery. It was clear that I needed to turn my health around. I needed to make a lifestyle change.

I had heard a little bit about the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) from an employee, but the message really sank in when my family doctor recommended it to me. My wife and I joined shortly thereafter, and since then I’ve had a fantastic transformation. I’ve lost 30 lbs., I’ve decreased my cholesterol medicine by 75 percent, and I’ve just felt great. In the past I’ve weighed as much as 330 pounds. When I had bypass surgery, I was at about 265. Today, I weigh 215 pounds—which is easily the lightest I’ve been in 20 years—and my waist size has gone from a 46 to a 38. The program has even helped with my arthritis; I just don’t have the joint pain that I’ve had in the past. Most importantly, I haven’t had any heart disease symptoms since I joined. I really just feel wonderful.

The program has also helped me beyond the medical benefits. I feel better when I play golf. I’m able to do the elliptical and jog a little bit. I’ve gotten to the point where I can swim pretty well in our pool. In fact, I’m about ready to challenge one of my kids in a basketball game and show them that I’ve still got it…granted, I do cheat.

I’m also dealing with stress more effectively these days. In the past 33 years I’ve managed several law firms, had a son overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, and raised four children as a single parent—so I’ve had to deal with a lot of stress. Because of that stress, I’ve always been a bit uptight, always had about 10,000 things running through my brain, even when I was playing golf, or bowling or trying to relax. But now, it’s different. I enjoy what I’m doing at the time that I’m doing it. If, for example, I’m playing golf for four hours, the world could end, and I would still finish the round. I’ve learned to be in the moment. It feels great.

If I’d never joined the program, I’d probably still be fighting the coronary artery disease that got me here in the first place. I may not be alive! I also would not have the hope for a happy and fruitful post-retirement life that I do now. Debbie and I just celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, and I want to see a lot more of life together with her. Also, between the two of us, we have nine grandchildren (our tenth to be born in 2015). I’d like to stay around for them for as long as I possibly can. I also have four children of my own, and Debbie has two. My family brings me tremendous joy, and I believe this program will give me as much time with them as possible.

Lastly, to anyone who has coronary artery disease and is considering the Ornish program, I’d quote Nike: “just do it.” From a man who had terrible eating habits for 62 years: If I can do it, you can do it. I’m sold on the program, and I thank God all the time that someone told me about it. It really has changed my life and I believe that it can change yours, too.

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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