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Name: Steve S.

Age: 70

Location: St. Jude Medical Center

Health Challenge: Atrial fibrillation, multiple bypass surgery, valve replacement surgery, mini-stroke

Greatest Motivation: I’m very optimistic and I have more energy than I can deal with; I want to do something all the time. I’ve even lost 53 pounds in the past 8 months. Plus, I’m thinking quicker than I used to, which means everything to me as a professor. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve had no symptoms of heart disease since joining the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program. (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation).

“Give the program a fair shot. It’d be good for you, and it’ll help you live longer, healthier, more productive lives.”

His Story:

I’ve had heart issues for all of my life. I first discovered that I had a murmur when I was drafted back in ’69, but it’s never been serious enough to prevent me from doing anything that I wanted to do. In 1996, I had a multiple bypass operation, but again, I got through that with no problems whatsoever. Finally, in December of 2013, my heart disease began to catch up with me, and I started having trouble breathing. A year later, after much deliberation, the doctors finally opted to perform open heart surgery on me to replace both of my valves. During the surgery, I suffered a mini-stroke. When I woke up, I had trouble walking and speaking, and I had breaks in my memory that I simply couldn’t bridge. I was a long way from where I wanted to be.

Five or six days later, my son walked into the hospital room where I was staying. Groggily, and to no one in particular, I said “This is my son Dan. I love him very much.” In that moment, I decided that I was going to get better; in that moment, I finally began to move forward. Over the course of the next few days, I made vast improvements in my activities and my recovery. Shortly after, I took my doctor’s advice and got into a Cognitive Therapy Program and, eventually, the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program at St. Jude’s Medical Center.

Today, my health has completely turned around. Before the program, and before my operation, I simply felt like I was walking upstream—as if I was in a creek bed and the water was flowing against me and I was struggling to just take the next step. Everything was an effort. I didn’t have any energy, and people around me were even starting to comment that I was getting cranky.

Now, things are different. I’m very optimistic and I have more energy than I can deal with; I want to do something all the time. I’ve even lost 53 pounds in the past 8 months. Plus, I’m thinking quicker than I used to, which means everything to me as a professor. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve had no symptoms of heart disease since then. Those issues are way in the past.

Each of the program’s components has been extremely beneficial for me. Every one of them contributes to the other, and they blend together perfectly. One thing that I’ve found is that I can actually trace the teachings of the components into different parts of my life. The other day, for example, one of my doctors was running way behind schedule, and ordinarily, waiting for him to take me in would have driven me crazy. But this time, I simply sat back, relaxed, and practiced my stress management techniques. Those usually infuriating 45 minutes of waiting completely flew by; I was happy as could be.

Now, I plan to live to be 100; and I don’t mean a bedridden 100 year old—I mean a thriving 100 year old. The group support has changed my life as well. I know for a fact that I’m much more open with people; I discuss things more readily, and I let people in on what I’m thinking more often than I ever did before the operation. Today, in part because of those changes, my wife Barbara and I are closer than ever before. Same thing with my son, Dan. Both of them have been so valuable to me throughout this whole process, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be around them and feel close to them like I do now.

These days, I talk up the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program to anyone who wants to listen to me. I don’t quite go house-to-house knocking on doors and handing out flyers about it, but maybe someday I will. Basically, the advice that I give people is this: Give the program a fair shot. It’d be good for you, and it’ll help you live longer, healthier, more productive lives. People listen to me when I talk about the program because they can see the impact it has had on my life. Before the program, I had a grim outlook. Now, I plan on living a long, productive, and loving life—and I’ve got it all set up for me. I have a wife and son who love me back, and that’s pretty great. I’m able to teach and write, which means the world to me. I’m planning on joining a gym and going to New Mexico to fish, which will be really fun. All told, I not only came out of this whole ordeal on my feet—I came out of it looking forward. Things couldn’t be better.

Before I wrap up my story, I want to say thank you. Thank you to the cognitive therapists, hospital therapists, and Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program clinicians at St. Jude’s Medical Center. There are too many people to thank by name, but I could easily name them all right now if I had the space. Thank you all for your help, your knowledge, your unceasing care, and your good cheer. It’s abundantly clear that each of you simply want to help people, and with me, you’ve helped so very much. I could not be more grateful for you or for the life that you’ve given me.

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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