Here were three doctors, all wanting me to be healthy, telling
me I should have a by-pass operation and have it soon. I was told
that every tick of my heart was like the tick of a time bomb; it
could go off at any moment. I couldn't accuse them of having financial
motives; I belong to a prepaid health plan and the by-pass wouldn't
cost me anything, the doctors would receive no extra payment, and
the plan would be some $75,000 poorer. The doctors kept insisting;
have a by-pass now!
To get them to give me more time to think it over and explore
alternatives, I told them that I couldn't have the by-pass right
away because it was against my religion. They asked what religion
is that? I'm a devout coward, I replied.
Scared to death (more accurately - scared of death), I
started reading everything about heart disease I could get my hands
on. I was lucky to be retired, with a background in research and
statistical analysis. I had time to search through university libraries
and using the Internet, read hundreds of articles in medical journals
and books. I found out that there was another alternative to open
heart surgery that I hadn't been told about.
The scientific articles led me to a bestselling book that showed
me a medically sound and proven alternative, Dr.
Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease. It
became my primer for survival, and it remains my guide to this day.
Some of what you will read here has its roots in that book and from
communications with clinicians and researchers at Dr. Ornish's Preventive
Medicine Research Institute. I learned that I could have much more
control over my own destiny than I had ever realized. It taught
me that my eating habits and lack of aerobic exercise in the past
were the reasons for my medical problems today. It explained how
to change those habits, to not only stop the progression of the
disease, but how to reverse the damage that I had done to myself.
It sounded reasonable, but I was hesitant to make major lifestyle
changes on the basis of one book. Especially when my cardiologist
and personal physician had doubts about this approach. So I kept
I found a number of books by Dr.
John A. McDougall. These backed up much of what I had learned
in Dr. Ornish's book, and went much further in explaining why the
changes I should make would help me prevent many other illnesses,
improve my general health and even relieve other conditions, such
as allergies, I'd had for most of my life. I learned more about
what atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is, how it forms,
what it looks like, and how it can be dealt with.
About this same time, a friend and sailing partner began to have
severe angina and shortness of breath. He went through the same
series of tests that I had, but was told that angioplasty would
be helpful. Two days after his angiogram, he had balloon angioplasty
to push back the plaque that was blocking his coronary arteries,
and a few days later he was home and active again. While I had changed
my eating pattern completely, he continued eating the same things
as before: meat, cheese, potato chips and cookies with lots of shortening.
A few months later he was again suffering severe chest pains and
shortness of breath. After more tests he was back in the hospital
for a by-pass operation. I had given him Ornish's book when his
heart problems first started, but it took a major surgery before
he would see the need to read it. He has come to understand the
message and he's now living in a way that will make it unlikely
that he'll need surgery again. His experience reinforces the danger
in putting off changes in lifestyle. It's worth your life to begin
them as soon as possible.
As I read more about Ornish's
program, I learned that one of the important factors for reversing
heart disease is being in a support group. I called all the local
hospitals, associations, and social agencies in the hope of joining
one, but there was none in Honolulu. My next step was to convince
someone to start one, but the same reply kept coming back; if you
want one so badly, why not start one yourself? I called the nearest
medical center, met with the persons in charge of health education
who agreed it was a good idea, but they didn't go ahead with it.
After six months of meetings, Kaiser Permanente, Hawaii's largest
health maintenance organization, and Castle Medical Center agreed
to let me start groups. Suddenly, I was to lead two groups. When
we had our first meeting at Castle, an hour and a half drive from
my home, the room was swamped with 77 people wanting to join. To
take as many as possible, we split into two groups, one in the afternoon
and one in the evening. Counting driving time, that made an 8 hour
day. Leading three groups a week and using a great deal of time
preparing information, recipes and charts, I found myself spending
about 40 hours a week on the Healing Heart program. So much for
I have been leading free support groups in Hawaii for over six
years, putting more than 700 participants through a ten week series.
The enthusiasm of the group members and the amazing improvements
in health they report has made it a rewarding experience. Group
members report they have learned much from our groups, and I have
learned much more from them than I could ever have found in books
alone, gaining more knowledge and understanding about heart disease,
diabetes, arthritis and many other cardiovascular related diseases.
I learned for myself how life-long allergies disappear when certain
foods are given up, notably dairy and egg products. With each new
group, I've learned new ways how others deal with their problems
in adjusting to new and better lifestyles as well as hints and tips
to make those changes easier. This wealth of information lead to
the writing of the Healthy
Heart Handbook and is a key to the success of those who
seek to improve their health.
Each support group discovers their own new and different ways of
adapting to a healthier lifestyle. Finding and joining a local support
group will make it easier to follow the program and keep you on
target longer. Natural food stores and local vegetarian clubs often
have information about support groups in the area. Look at our Resource
Links for more information.
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