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Name: Alan C.

Age: 63

Health Challenge: Heart attack at age 45

Greatest Motivation: The Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) saved my life. With the support of the professionals, the staff, and the cohort members, I quit smoking at the time of my heart attack, and found that learning and adopting the program was quite easy. We all became close; we all helped each other.  It’s also gotten much easier to follow the program over the past 20 years. And the Ornish program gave me the bump, the nudge that I needed to begin to enjoy the things that I now love so much.

In February of 1997 I had a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, I ended up in the hospital and had an angioplasty. Although the heart attack wasn’t very major, I knew that it was time to begin to make changes in my lifestyle. Luckily, at the time of my recovery, my sister sent me Dr. Ornish’s Reversing Heart Disease, and I tried to follow the program using that.

“The program has been a learning experience for me; it’s been great for my life, my health, my journey.”

I followed along as closely as possible, but missed out on the group support component, and I remember wishing that an organized group would come to my area so I could experience the program in full. Amazingly, within a year I found out that the program was beginning close by. I signed up right away and got started in one of the very first cohorts.

I believe that the group support, which was the component that I had been missing while following the book, had a very large impact on me and on everyone else in the program. With the support of the professionals, the staff, and the cohort members, I found that learning and adopting the program was quite easy. We all became close; we all helped each other.

I was probably one of the youngest in the group, but that was completely okay. In fact, we enjoyed each other so much that we developed our own self-directed community—our own alumni group—after the official program ended. We would have Christmas and holiday dinners together and we’d meet for other dinners quite often as well. It was a social thing. It really helped everybody.

Mainly, the program has been a learning experience for me; it’s been great for my life, my health, my journey. Probably the biggest single thing that it did for me was helping me along my spiritual journey. The stress management component of the program, which has long intrigued me, was my doorway into learning more about Reiki, about meditation, about a lot of things. And now it’s been nearly 20 years, and I’m at the point where I consider myself a student and teacher of life. More of a student, really. I never would have gotten to this place spiritually if the Ornish Program hadn’t introduced me to stress management. 

The program has also helped me along my health journey. I quit smoking at the time of my heart attack, I learned to discipline what I eat, and I exercise better now than ever before. Healthwise, the Ornish Program saved my life. It also taught me a better lifestyle and taught me how to take care of myself. My cardiologist agrees. He has told me to continue following the program because I’m in better health every time I see him—better health than before I even met him. He says that I’m like the poster child, but I don’t want or need to be a poster child; what I want is to be alive and to enjoy my children and my grandchildren. And I can do that now.

It’s also gotten much easier to follow the program over the past 20 years. I remember years ago it was very hard to eat a fat free vegetarian diet, but today you can walk into a restaurant or grocery store and find plenty of things to eat. At first my family would tease me, “What do you mean a Tofurkey? Does it have a little gobble on it?” But they’ve come around. It’s gotten much easier as more people have begun to accept and adopt lifestyle changes.

The program is a process and it continues to be a process. But it’s a process of learning to be healthy—of learning to not consider myself a heart patient—and it’s been very rewarding. As is the case with anything, the joy is in the little things. For example, the program helped me lose weight and become more flexible to the point that I was able to sit in a cross-legged position, which was great. We all have different steps in our life that are like that—different goals in our life that are always changing—and that was one of mine. Like I said, that goal could be different things for different people; it could be to live until you’re a certain age, or to enjoy your children and grandchildren, or to make it to your next paycheck, or even to sit cross-legged.

Regardless of what it is, those are the little things that make life enjoyable. Whether the goals are big or small, they matter. And the Ornish program has helped me enjoy those little things. It has helped me enjoy the life that I’m living now. My lifestyle changes have also allowed me to do the things that I’m passionate about. I love to wake up. I like to look out of my window in the morning. I like to kayak. I like to spend time with my family. I like to look at the sunset. I like to swim. I like doing energy healing. I like creating. I like learning. I like teaching. And the Ornish program, which helped me make my lifestyle changes, gave me the bump, the nudge that I needed to begin to enjoy these things that I now love so much.

Finally, to someone who is thinking of making lifestyle changes for him or herself, I would say: take care of yourself. Physically, emotionally—take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t enjoy what you’re doing. And the Ornish program does just that; it helps you feel comfortable with yourself. It gives you the tools, the ability, the knowledge to move forward, to be happy, and to be healthy.

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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