Creator of powerful lifestyle-based treatment speaks at St. Dominic

By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – Dr. Dean Ornish, nationally recognized  for his program to reverse heart disease by making comprehensive lifestyle changes, was invited by St. Dominic Hospital on Tuesday, Feb. 23, to talk about the power of lifestyle changes and lifestyle medicine.
St. Dominic’s began to offer his nine-week program, “undo it with Ornish,” in 2014 and since then has helped more than 100 patients, many of whom have significantly improved their lifestyle profiles.
Dr. Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, noted that instead of trying to motivate his patients with the ‘fear of dying,’ he inspires in them a new vision of the ‘joy of living,’ convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer.
He mentioned how in 1977 when he was in his second year of medical school learning how to do bypass surgery, he realized that patients were sent home with the idea they were cured, so they continued doing the same things that had harmed their hearts, eating junk food, smoking, living sedentary, stressful lives. Many ended up back in surgery, sometimes two and three times.
“For me that became a metaphor of an incomplete approach. Literally we were bypassing the problem,” he said. He thought that there was a simpler, more compassionate path back to wellness.
He decided to take a year off to study the problem. Dr. Ornish said his research was not well received. Doctors thought he was crazy. When he graduated he did a second study which showed the same results.
His program has been proven to undo heart disease by dealing with the root causes and not just its effects. It has four elements: nutrition, stress management, fitness and love and support.
Susan and Larry Marquez attended the presentation. Larry followed Dr. Ornish’s program at St. Dominic’s.  His wife, Susan, said she has seen a tremendous change in her husband’s heath since he finished the nine-week program. “His energy level and his overall sense of well being has given us a new lease on life,” she said.
Now, she said, they focus more in what they can eat; an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nonfat dairy, etc., than what they should not eat, red meat, egg yolks, fried foods, butter, cream, etc.
Even though she didn’t participate in the program, Susan was encouraged by Larry’s doctor to attend the orientation for it. The doctor explained that if patients have a person go through the program with them, they are more successful. “I knew health wise that if this program was going to help Larry, I wanted to be part of it,” she noted.
At the end of the nine weeks, Larry’s total cholesterol was down to 125 from 285, he was 53 pounds lighter, and his blood pressure was normal for the first time in years, said Susan.
She indicated that both of them have gotten healthier. Before the program she had borderline type 2 diabetes and was taking medication. She is off the medicine now. Both have decided to make it a permanent life style change.
The program includes 18 sessions of four hours each for a total of 72 hours during the nine weeks. At each session participants practice and focus on the four elements of the program, learning about what foods to eat and how to prepare them at home; practice a range of techniques to relax, release stress and react in healthier ways, giving and receiving emotional support to help unlock the healing power of community and experience the vitality that comes from daily moderate activity.
Dr. Ornish’s 35 years of research have proved that comprehensive lifestyle changes can also help slow, stop, or even reverse early-stage prostate cancer and can lengthen telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that control aging.
Dr. Ornish said that during his first research in 1977, Michael DeBakey, a cardiac surgeon known as a pioneer in the field, gave him a ‘really hard time.’ “He called me few years ago, right before his death at the age of 99, and told me, ‘I want to thank you because you were right. This approach actually kept me alive so much longer that I would have.’ So that was like a validation to me. It was a good moment.”
In 2011, Medicare joined several private health insurers in covering this program under the specially created category of Intensive Cardiovascular Rehabilitation, (ICR).
David Dzielak, executive director of the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, attended the presentation. He said he was interested in hearing about  the great things that are going on with diets and heart decease because his office was trying to implement a program like the one designed by Dr. Ornish.
For more information visit and search for ornish.