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Name: Mel Gottleib

Health Challenge: Heart Disease

Greatest MotivationI will never forget the moment my cardiologist pulled up the before and after images of my heart. Not only had I not gotten any worse, but also I had reversed my heart disease. I began to cry. After my doctor saw my results, he went through the program. He now recommends the program in a very positive way.

His Story: In January, 2002, I had a heart attack, commonly known as a widow maker. I was admitted to the hospital and rushed into open-heart surgery on five of my vessels. Under my wife’s watchful eye and loving care, my doctor said I recovered in the top five percent. He attributed that largely to the fact that I’ve always exercised. My cardiologist took great care of me, but he prescribed me with a plan to avoid another cardiac event. I made some changes such as eating leaner meat and added more exercise. Everything was going great.

“I thought that if you didn’t have meat three times a day, you were not eating properly.”

In September 2009, I started having chest pain again. It wasn’t as severe as my heart attack, but it was definitely cardiac pain. Since the pain wasn’t as bad as before, I foolishly didn’t tell anyone, mostly because I couldn’t bare the idea of going through all of the testing again — and possibly another procedure.

After a few days, I realized that I needed to address the pain.  I told Debbie and we decided to go see a new doctor hoping for a different approach. But he did exactly as I expected.  He put me through all of the tests and a heart catherization.  The stress test showed that my heart was not receiving enough blood and my ejection fraction had dropped from 62% to 51% in one year.  My doctor said that a five percent reduction was dangerous. Debbie and I both wanted the doctor to fix it.  I asked for a new drug or for him to put in a new stent.

But after the catheterization, he told me that he had good news and bad news.  The good news was that my larger arteries were in good shape. The bad news was that the smaller arteries were filled with plaque and this was not allowing sufficient blood flow to nourish my heart. The worst part of this news was that there were no procedures to correct this problem. The only real fix would be a major lifestyle change.  What?  I thought I had already made the changes I needed.

I soon learned that, according to the CDC, the leading cause of death today are chronic diseases, and these are not caused by viruses, but by bad lifestyles. Our bad habits are now our health’s worst enemy, and heart disease is the number one killer in the US today.  There are three main approaches to treating heart disease: medications, surgeries such as angioplasty, and more invasive surgeries such as open-heart surgery. What many people don’t know is that sixty percent of the top five chronic conditions and the leading cause of death are preventable — and even reversible.

My doctor suggested the The Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation),  however he also said in the same breath  “No one ever follows through on it.”  I thought: if you suggest a program to a patient because you can’t do it, then it sets the patient up for failure. Debbie and I had a different opinion.  I wanted to live.  She wanted me to live. I wanted to enjoy life. She wanted me to enjoy life.  We quickly went out and bought two copies of Dr. Ornish’s book, The Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease. We each read it immediately, and after finishing it, we both became vegetarians.

This was no easy feat for me because my father was a butcher.  I thought that if you didn’t have meat three times a day, you were not eating properly.  But soon my new philosophy was, “if it ever had a face or a mother, we didn’t eat it.” At first I missed my meat. Every time I craved a barbeque sandwich or a steak, however,  I just started to think about explaining to my wife, children, grandchildren, and anyone who I loved and who loved me, that the piece of meat wasn’t more important than my relationship with them. I started to feel better.

Two years ago Debbie and I took two of our grandkids on a hiking, kayaking and biking trip.  We were the only grandparents on the trip.  My grandson and I were the only two that completed every activity.  My grandson said, “Way to go Papa!”  Hearing those words from him is way better than eating a piece of meat. Reading the book was not enough for Debbie.  She was determined to find a program to maximize the positive effects I was already experiencing.  She searched the Internet for three days and finally found The Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program in Silverton, Oregon.

We left  Florida as soon as we could for Oregon. I was comfortable with the nutrition and exercise portion of the program, but I really didn’t think that there was a way this program could help this type A personality control stress. To my surprise, I did learn. I now understand that the world will continue to throw stress my way, but I can now manage my reaction to these situations.

After following the program for one year, it was time for my follow-up exams and tests.  As we were getting ready to go to the doctor, Debbie said, “Even if you have had a little bit of improvement, we are staying on this program.” I answered:  “If I haven’t gotten any worse, we are staying on this program!”

I will never forget the moment my cardiologist pulled up the before and after images of my heart. Not only had I not gotten any worse, but also I had reversed my heart disease.  I began to cry. After my doctor saw my results, he went through the program.  He now recommends the program in a very positive way. Because I choose not to just treat my illness, but fix the underlying causes of it, today I am getting ready to do a 100-mile bike ride with my son.  I hope to do better this year than last and break 5 hours!

Contributed by

Adam Farina
Contributor

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