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Name: John L.

Age: 60s

Location: WVU

Location: West Virginia

Health Problems: Triple Cardiac Bypass Surgery.

Greatest Motivation: One of my arteries was 100 percent blocked and two were over 90 percent blocked. I haven’t had any symptoms of heart disease since I began the program—not one. I’ve had several nuclear stress tests and they’ve all been completely clear. I don’t even carry nitros anymore. The cardiologist has told me “whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” and that’s exactly what I’ve done.  After one meeting in particular, one of my employees asked me “are you okay? You weren’t complaining, you didn’t say that ‘this is ridiculous,’ and you didn’t try to speed things up as usual.” I said I was fine, and asked if my new disposition made me look weak. “On the contrary,” he replied, “it makes you look much stronger.”

His Story: For most of my life I had no heart disease symptoms whatsoever. Then, one night in 2002, I was awakened in the middle of the night with some pretty strong chest pain. I work in medicine so I’ve been telling people what to do in that situation for years: call 911. Naturally I ignored my own advice and went downstairs, watched TV, and then went to work. I didn’t even wake my wife. But the pain continued, and by the end of the day, I figured that I’d better get it evaluated. My PCP scheduled a stress test. I knew the guy who administered it and we were joking around before the test, but when he came out from reading the test he had no color in his face; one of my arteries was 100 percent blocked and two were over 90 percent blocked.

“The program works so well because it’s not just a diet; it’s a complete lifestyle change.”

Seeing this, my doctor decided to skip stents entirely and go straight to bypass surgery. Shocked, I said “ok, let me go home and take care of some things and I’ll be back later today.” The doctor just stared at me incredulously before finally saying: “You’re not leaving this hospital!” I had surgery later that day. After my surgery I rushed back into my normal lifestyle too quickly. I was back at work after just two and a half weeks, but I had to leave at 3pm each day because I was so exhausted. My coworkers and my family told me that what I was doing was crazy—I was working too hard. Recognizing that I had to make a change, I began looking for a program to turn things around. When I was looking, I knew I didn’t want something that I would see in the checkout line at a grocery store. I wanted something that had an evidence base— something that was published in respected professional journals. That’s when I heard about the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) and realized that it fit all of my criteria.

This program is as far from a tabloid or an infomercial as you can get—this program is science. I believed in it right away and I have ever since. Since that day, I have stuck with the program and the results have been tremendous. I haven’t had any symptoms of heart disease since then—not one. I’ve had several nuclear stress tests and they’ve all been completely clear. I don’t even carry nitros anymore. The cardiologist has told me “whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve also found that I continue to feel better and better over time.

Program rookies always say “I feel ten years younger after just one year on the program!” Well, just imagine how great it is after 12 years. Things are just so much better. I can’t imagine returning to my old lifestyle, and I never will. The program works so well because it’s not just a diet; it’s a complete lifestyle change. Each of the four components—group support, nutrition, stress management, and exercise—has had a large impact on my well-being, but two have stood out in particular.

First, the group support has helped tremendously. I found that—despite having an immense support system in my life—I was able to say things in the Ornish group that I couldn’t say in more general settings. That was the case because we had a shared experience; everyone in the room has been through what I’ve been through. It’s just like combat veterans wanting to talk to other combat veterans, or cops wanting to talk to other cops—it’s just great to be with people with the same fears, same lifestyle changes, same everything. It was very helpful. The second component that was extremely important for me was stress management. Before the program, I was on always edge. I found myself incessantly pressing elevator buttons and yelling at streetlights in a futile attempt to speed them up.

Since I joined the program all of that has changed. This change is obvious throughout my life; my wife and children have noticed, and even my employees have noticed. In fact, after one meeting in particular, one of my employees asked me “are you okay? You weren’t complaining, you didn’t say that ‘this is ridiculous,’ and you didn’t try to speed things up as usual.” I said I was fine, and asked if my new disposition made me look weak. “On the contrary,” he replied, “it makes you look much stronger.” This story is emblematic of the rest of my life; thanks to the stress management, I’m no longer teetering on the edge of my patience—I have more energy, I’m better at my job, and I’m a happier person for it.

To anyone who thinking of joining the program I would say that the program is an opportunity to take back control; it’s an opportunity for people like me who don’t believe that they have to play the cards that they were dealt; it’s an opportunity to not only live longer, but to live better. As Dr. Ornish always says, the death rate in America is 100 percent, so we all have to live as well as possible for as long as we can. I truly believe that this program is the best way to do that. It’s helped me and it can help you too.

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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