My first signs of trouble began the day after Christmas, 2005. I felt severe tightness in the chest and feared that I had a heart attack.
I checked straight into the hospital’s emergency room. After a barrage of tests, it was decided that I did not have a heart attack, but that I had a malfunctioning valve and two badly blocked coronary arteries. So on January 20, 2006 I underwent a double bypass. They also replaced my mitral valve with an artificial valve.
I then modified my lifestyle. I quit smoking. And for the next 6 years, I followed the American Heart Association diet which called for reducing the quantity of red meat, limiting the intake of fat to 30% of calories, taking the skin off chicken, and so on. I did frequent exercise.
All wasn’t well.
Basically I did what I was told to do. I thought everything was going well. But during a routine medical examination, it was discovered that there were again signs of disease progressing in my heart.
Further tests revealed that the two bypasses done 6 years earlier had nearly closed up and my left descending artery was 90% blocked. If the artery had totally closed, my life would have been in grave danger. The cardiologist suggested another bypass operation.
Dr Dean Ornish
At this point I was 47 years old. I was wondering how many times am I going to have to go through this? Is this how I want to live my life?
Before going into the hospital, I had read Dr Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease.
I was interested in giving it a try, but my cardiologist was not as enthusiastic. The program calls for a totally meat-free diet and my cardiologist said only 14% of people who tried vegetarianism succeeded. I felt that I could.
In any case, I wanted to give it a try before undergoing another surgery. My cardiologist agreed. But only with the stipulation that I should present myself at the hospital for surgery at the first sign of pain.
Before I checked out, I called my brother who is also a doctor. He thought it was very dangerous for me to leave the hospital.
But I asked that he read the book before giving me further advice. After reading the book he was also convinced that Dr Ornish’s program was the proper course to follow.
On December 6, 2009, I began to be an Ornish follower. There are several cities where they have hospital supervised Ornish programs. But not where I lived. So I simply followed the book.
Dr Ornish’s program calls for a low fat vegetarian diet. The only animal products allowed are skim milk and egg whites. I limit my fat intake to 20 grams a day. My wife, Ginny, has been a great help to me. She also follows the diet as closely as I do.
Many people think that a vegetarian diet is boring. Or that it would make me feel deprived, or weaken me and give me dizzy spells. Oh yes, they also say it’s very troublesome.
None of this is true, my wife and I discovered. Dr Ornish has published a book with 185 pages of delicious and colorful recipes and a sample 21-day menu. The book makes it very easy to follow.
We just tried a new recipe each weekend and before long we had discovered many new meals we both enjoy. We eat lots of pasta, beans and rice. We enjoy more variety than we did on our old diets.
So no, I did feel deprived. Nor weak, nor dizzy.
Like Dr Ornish, we continue to shop at the same grocery store. We even dine out once in a while. It isn’t at all troublesome.
When I went on this program, my weight and cholesterol were both about 210. Soon, both went down to 180. This gave me the encouragement to stick with it. I now no longer need to take beta blockers for high blood pressure or mevacor for high cholesterol. I feel I have more energy than I have had for years.
Since I have been on the program, I have had two thallium stress tests which indicate that the blockage is improving at least a little. I would have been very happy to just not get any worse.
The meat-free diet provides the basis of a complete lifestyle change that Dr Ornish feels is imperative for improved health. Built upon this foundation is a complete stress-reducing program that includes exercise, yoga-stretching and meditation.
Dr Ornish’s believes that the heart is not just a physical organ, but also the center of our emotions. So his program reflect the needs of these two “hearts”.
The hardest part: Meditation
The exercise program is not a rigorous one. I walk 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week. I usually cover about 2 miles per day. Exercise improves my blood circulation, oxygen intake, and so on. Yoga-stretching provides an opportunity for relaxation.
Then there is meditation. When I started the program, the diet sounds like it would be the hardest part. But actually it was very easy.
I took quite a while to get the hang of meditation though. I now feel that it is probably the most important part of this program.
In this high stress world, it is important to take a break from the stress as often as we can. Meditation helps me do this. I meditate 30 minutes in the morning and again after work.
Going on the Ornish program has not only prolonged my life, but has changed it completely. My self-image has changed too. I consider myself successful even though I may not make as much money as some people I know.
I have found a balance and peace in my life that has helped me to appreciate the important things, the irreplaceable things.
I enjoy my job, my family and my religion. I look forward to enjoying my grand children. Many of my more financially successful acquaintances may not have this opportunity.
Dr Ornish has helped me live a fuller, happier life. I am grateful to him and to those who work with him. I would like you to read his book. It gives all of us a chance to make an informed decision to improve our lives.