Bob Lawton took to heart his medical concerns. So did his wife, Rose.
Now thanks to a life-changing program, both have healthy hearts.
Without the Dr. Dean Ornish Program For Reversing Heart Disease, Bob Lawton, 81, said he wouldn’t be alive today.
“I never felt so good in my life,” he said, adding that a combination of eating correctly, moderate exercise, stress management and group support made all the difference.
But he wasn’t in it alone. For a true heart-to-heart experience, Rose Lawton, 71, teamed with her husband to make significant changes. Both concluded the pay-off was worth it.
“I had reached the end of the line,” Bob Lawton said. “I was up against the wall.”
So the Neshannock Township couple enrolled in the Ornish program at Jameson Hospital five years ago and has adhered to its guidelines ever since.
The major goal of the Ornish program is to make lifestyle changes to adapt to individual lives, said Joy Urda, program director and exercise physiologist at Jameson.
People who are contemplating bypass surgery or angioplasty, with significant risk factors including high blood pressure or high cholesterol, those diagnosed with coronary artery disease or diabetes or people with a history of cardiac events can benefit from what Ornish offers, she explained.
For the Lawtons, there were some crucial health issues.
Bob Lawton had a heart attack in 1991. After that, there were stents and in 2003, he had triple bypass surgery,
About that time, Rose Lawton became aware of Dr. Ornish. Wanting to lose weight, she realized there was a double advantage.
“My intent was because Bob had so many risk factors and I wanted to see if the program would help him,” she said, adding she had high blood pressure.
After being approved by their insurance company, the Lawtons embarked on a year-long intensive journey that has had multiple rewards.
“We were in this together,” Bob Lawton said.
Jameson is the only hospital in Lawrence, Butler and Mercer counties to offer the Ornish program, Urda said. It is under the medical direction of Dr. Neil Herrick and has been in place for six years.
A physician’s consent must be obtained, and blood work to determine cholesterol levels, blood pressure and a graded exercise test are conducted. Participants also must complete a three-day food diary analysis and answer a health/well-being questionnaire.
For more than 30 years, Dr. Ornish, a cardiologist, and his team determined through research that comprehensive changes in diet and lifestyle can slow, stop and even reverse heart disease.
Participants have seen improved blood sugars, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and functional capacity, and gained overall satisfaction with life, Urda said.
The first 12 weeks are the most intense when participants meet two days a week for four hours. The first hour is moderate aerobic exercise and light strength training. Stress management takes up the second hour with a yoga-certified therapist, Lori Brothers.
“She can’t take the stress out of your life, but can help,” Urda said. “It brings blood pressure and heart rate back down.”
For the third hour, Ornish followers have a super salad, entrée and dessert.
“We have recipes for all the meals,” Petrik pointed out, noting two nutritionists, Maria Tsikouris and Michelle Byers, and chef, Kathy Fleming, are part of the team.
It is a vegetarian lifestyle, Urda said.
“It was a big change in the way we ate,” Rose Lawton confirmed. But eating whole grains, vegetables, protein such as soy, beans and legumes and fruits has become a routine. Neither she nor or her husband miss red meat.
Caffeine is prohibited because it can raise heart rate and blood pressure, and puts extra stress on the body, Petrik said.
The fourth hour is group support where a clinical social worker, David Hunter, speaks on identifying how the participants are feeling in the program.
“Success is the ultimate goal and success consists of conforming to the standards of the program,” Petrik said.
Individuals are restested at the end of the first 12 weeks and results are sent to the physician.
The group continues to meet for different lengths of time in three more 12-week gatherings.
There is even a commencement with diplomas handed out, and a dinner, Petrik said.
“The value is greater if both spouses are involved,” said Rose Lawton.
Although Polly Woodring, 61, took the solo route, her husband is still with her regarding the diet.
The main reason the New Castle woman began two years ago is a family history of heart disease.
“I sought a new route to control the risk factors,” said the retired reading specialist. “You feel so much better right away.”
Yet it is a big commitment, Woodring said.
“It’s too easy to grab takeout, but now I’ve learned the food on this program is wonderful. At first, it seems overwhelming but after a week I told myself I could do this.”
At the end of a year, she was off cholesterol and blood pressure medication.
By the sixth month, Rose Lawton had lost two dress sizes. In addition, her blood pressure lowered and her husband’s cholesterol responded well.
Woodring lost 25 pounds and two dress sizes, and kept the weight off.
The program is started quarterly at Jameson, Petrik said. The entire program takes place in the hospital cafeteria, except for exercise, which is done in the pulmonary rehabilitation room.
“This program gives you a doctor, nurse, stress management specialist, exercise physiologist, dietitian, chefs and a social worker.”
“Who knows where I’d be without Ornish?”, Bob Lawton said. “I’m alive today because of the Dean Ornish program.”
The Ornish advocate said he felt so good he started working again.
His wife surmised, “I feel sure Bob would not have the health he enjoys now.”
She recommends the program because, “I think it’s good general living. There’s all pluses and no minuses.”
The Lawtons and Woodring continue maintenance with a self-directed community — a group that gets together weekly for yoga, relaxation and a meal. It is not required after the one-year program is completed, but is considered a good follow-up, Urda said.
“You get such good help and encouragement,” Woodring offered, adding there were hurdles but after she saw results, there was an impetus to keep on, she said.
The slogan of the Ornish program is change of heart. And change is the crucial factor of this approach, which takes motivation, determination and behavior modification, she pointed out.
“It becomes a matter of how you live,” Rose Lawton said. “You don’t think of the old ways anymore.”
She mentioned that group support is also key.
“If someone is frustrated or had a setback, the rest of the group understands and lets them know they’re not alone.”
Woodring confided that, “If I stop, I’ll be right back where I started. I’m avoiding heart disease and plan to continue.”
In the end, it does everyone’s heart good.
Bob Lawton took to heart his medical concerns. So did his wife, Rose.
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