Patients heartened by program

Disease-reversing plan considers "whole person"

Disease-reversing plan considers "whole person"

June 17, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Cindy Thurston's father had his first open heart surgery at age 47. That's how old she is now. He had his second operation when he was 54. He didn't make it off the table, Thurston says.

In 1999 Thurston was having health problems. She had a procedure called an angiogram, in which a fine tube was threaded through an artery in her leg up into her heart to check for blockages and narrowed areas inside coronary arteries. She learned that her main arteries were OK, but there was considerable - 40 and 60 percent - stenosis or narrowing in two smaller arteries.

She's been on four medications since then. But even though she's a registered nurse, even though she knows her family history, there was a certain amount of denial.


"Oh, that's not gonna happen to me," she had said.

Thurston's older son - a 24-year-old graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy now in pilot training in Florida - was home last Christmas. Described by Thurston as a "health nut," he was concerned about his mom's health, and her being overweight.

"Mom, you've got to do something," he said. He told her he wouldn't come home to visit until she did.

Serendipitously, City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., had started offering the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease.

Six people enrolled in the first group or cohort. One person has dropped out, says Dana DeJarnett, who directs the program at City Hospital. The sixth of 12 weeks in the first stage of the one-year program begins this week.

Thurston has already seen some positive changes. Her heart rate is down to normal, her blood pressure is lower and she hasn't been experiencing the indigestion and chest pain that she had before.

The Ornish group meets twice a week in its first 12-week stage. Sessions include an hour of individually designed exercise in the hospital's Wellness Center, an hour of group stress management, an hour of group support and dinner. Beyond the group sessions, patients are required to do an hour of exercise and 90 minutes of stress management a day - on their own.

The nutrition part of the program is low-fat and "plant based." Yes, for the most part, that means vegetarian, and that is no small adjustment for people to make.

Thurston likes being able to cook - albeit differently - rather than buying special food from a weight-loss program. The aroma of her stir-fries and chili made with soy "meat" have drawn requests from co-workers, and although her 16-year-old son noticed she hadn't put ham broth in the bean soup, he ate it.

Max Weaver's wife Nancy does 98 percent of the cooking in their Harpers Ferry, W.Va., home, and changing the way they eat has been challenging. But Nancy Weaver is supportive. "This is an important thing to try," she says.

The couple will take a cooler of foods they need for overnight visits with family and friends. Their daughter-in-law requests a grocery list when the couple has an extended visit. They've learned to be "rather assertive" when dining out, Nancy Weaver says.

The relaxation techniques that are part of the program have helped Thurston get in touch with her body and herself - not always thinking about what she has to do next.

Group support is another part of the program. "It's not always comfortable," Weaver says. But you have to learn how to deal with things. The group sessions provide opportunities to sound off, to talk about how hard or how boring it is, Weaver says.

"It's a lifestyle change, and you need support in doing that," Thurston says.

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