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Name: Mark S.

Age: 65-years-old

Ornish Location: Beacon Health – Elkhart General 

Health Challenges: Heart attack

Greatest Motivation: Weight loss wasn’t the only benefit though; I’ve stopped taking my cholesterol medicine and I’ve decreased my blood pressure medicine as well, and my numbers are actually better than they were when I was taking the meds. Overall, everything is way better—with my body, my mind, and my emotions.

His Story: I’m 65 years old and, for most of my life, have been very active and maintained good health. I ran the Chicago Marathon in the 80s, rode my bicycle around Lake Michigan in 1994, and continue to play tennis to this day—but I worked behind a desk for 35 years (before retiring last year), and slowly, that began to take a toll on me. I figured that I could counteract the effects of my ever-worsening diet with exercise, but as my family and career got going, my weight and my stress both began to incrementally increase. Still, I thought I was relatively healthy until 2009, when I had my first big wake-up call.

I recommend that you come into The Ornish Program with an open mind, a curious mind, a child’s mind

I was on the tennis court when, all of a sudden, I couldn’t catch my breath. I got down on one knee to regain my composure, but that didn’t do the trick, so I sat down. Still, I wasn’t quite there, so I lied down. That’s when everyone at the tennis club started to freak out. The next thing I knew, EMTs were taking me to the emergency room, and a cardiologist was telling me that—although I hadn’t had a heart attack—I did have a blockage in one of my arteries. “You should start doing some things differently,” he warned later that day, “or in 5 years, I’m going to see you again under a totally different set of circumstances.”

Even though I did make some lifestyle changes, 5 years later, the doctor proved to be right. The problems started small—I was feeling some discomfort when playing sports, especially tennis—and then they got worse. So much worse, in fact, that I actually started stalling in between tennis points so I could catch my breath. I couldn’t even cut the grass in my yard without having to sit down and recover. Finally, my wife called me on it and made me go to the doctor. There, they told me that I had about a 99% arterial blockage in my left shoulder area. When the doctor showed me a picture of it, I saw that the artery started out like a big flowing river, and then, all at once, it became a pencil-thin, barely-visible line. I got a stent and counted myself lucky that nothing worse had happened yet. Shortly thereafter, I got into the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program to try to turn things around.

Before the program started, I was a bit apprehensive. I’d tried diets, wellness programs–everything, really—but I’ve never been able to stick with any of it. I remember saying to a buddy a couple years prior that, “I need to break the code for Mark. I’ve never been able to do that; I always get a little momentum going with these programs, but that always fades. I need to find something to crack the code.” I’m not sure why, but after the first session of the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation),  I knew that I’d cracked the code. I developed a flow, a momentum, a rhythm—and never looked back.

I started the program at 225 pounds and was hoping to lose some weight. I didn’t put a number on my goal at first, but as the program got going, and the weight kept coming off in big numbers, I recalibrated my expectations; I decided to shoot for getting under 200 pounds. By the end of the program, I was 197. That was outstanding. Weight loss wasn’t the only benefit though; I’ve stopped taking my cholesterol medicine and I’ve decreased my blood pressure medicine as well, and my numbers are actually better than they were when I was taking the meds. Overall, everything is way better—with my body, my mind, and my emotions.

The four aspects of the program—nutrition, stress management, group support, and fitness—feed into each other really well. For example, coming into the program, I wasn’t 100% sure that I’d be able to commit to the nutrition aspect of it. I knew that giving up meat would be a big change for me. But the staff did an outstanding job of teaching us how to eat and what to eat, and the members of our group supported each other throughout the changes, so I was surprised by how easy making those dietary changes turned out to be. I even ended up enjoying it.

The members of my group were a wonderful support system. We all helped each other through the program—we were in it together, we were all rowing the boat—but it’s not only about that. We also talked about life’s challenges, health challenges, program challenges—anything, really. I lost my mother during this program, for example, and they were very supportive of me through that. All in all, we pulled together because it was a safe space. We helped each other make it through the storms and made sure that we all came out on the other side.

Lastly, to anyone who is thinking of joining the program, I recommend it. I know it might seem daunting at first, and it is a time commitment, but if you look at it like steps—days rather than weeks, small changes rather than big ones—then it will all come along for you. Even more importantly, I recommend that you come into it with an open mind, a curious mind, a child’s mind, and give it a shot. Having graduated from the program, I can tell you, unequivocally, that it was the best thing for me. So give it a chance; if you do, it can help you like it helped me.

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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