A journey to rehabilitate a heart without surgery
Bryce‘s test results showed clear signs blood flow had stopped to his heart recently, causing a mild heart attack. His high blood pressure and prediabetes elevated his risk of another episode. That meant Bryce needed to see a heart specialist right away.
The next news shocked Bryce and his wife, Peggy, even more. After two days of tests, his new cardiologist scheduled Bryce for immediate surgery to bypass clogged arteries.
“We said he can’t do the surgery right away,” Peggy said. They needed time to talk with their family and consider other options.
Bryce’s diagnosis sent the couple on a journey to repair his heart and regain his health without surgery. They traveled more than 450 miles from their home in Winterset, Iowa, to join the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program at Goshen Heart & Vascular Center.
Goshen offers the only Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program in Indiana. It’s also one of only two facilities in the Midwest that hosts in-person intensive cardiac rehabilitation classes.
Peggy, who describes herself as a health nut, had followed several experts in integrative lifestyle medicine for years. She knew about the Ornish program and thought it could make a big difference in Bryce’s health.
“I didn’t want the surgery,” said Bryce. “Sometimes, you have to take your health into your own hands.”
Learning how to eat well, stress less, move more, love moreOrnish Lifestyle Medicine is an immersive rehabilitation program that focuses on nutrition, fitness, stress management and support. It follows scientific evidence that integrative lifestyle changes can control the progression of heart disease.
Seven months after Bryce’s heart attack, the Webbs transported their lives from Iowa to Goshen for nine weeks. Together, the couple immersed themselves in the life-changing program at Goshen.
Bryce rotated from classroom-style learning to hands-on experiences during four-hour sessions twice a week. He became more aware of how food, exercise, relaxation and connections with others affect his health.
Bryce, age 72 at the time, leaned on the clinical exercise physiologists at Goshen’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Services to overcome his fear of exercising his heart too much.
“They monitor you closely, which really helped me,” he said. “Now I know how much I can push myself.”
With regained confidence, Bryce and his Ornish team built an exercise routine he could live with over time.
The calming waters and natural surroundings of Waubee Lake, where the Webbs stayed, helped Bryce relax. He practiced deep breathing, Tai Chi and meditation techniques introduced in his Ornish classes. He even celebrated his new style of living by jumping in the lake, despite the frigid fall temperatures.
Peggy joined Bryce for noontime presentations to learn how to cook no-fat, plant-based foods. Although the couple had tried a keto diet and other weight loss programs years ago, this time was different.
“It’s a lifestyle,” said Peggy. “People think it’s just a diet and you’re going to gain back the weight.”
Ornish equips participants to sustain a healthy lifestyle for a lifetime
By the time the Webbs left Indiana in November 2022, Bryce weighed just eight pounds more than when he got married five decades ago. His set a goal to shed those last few pounds and maintain his wedding day weight.
Bryce’s blood sugar levels also dropped. His A1C still hovers in the prediabetic range, but he knows he’s on the right path to bring it down to a normal level.
“Even the pharmacist is amazed with my blood results,” he said. “She calls every month and wants to know what I’ve been doing.”
Bryce logs six to seven miles on his recumbent bike most days and challenges himself in a regular routine with resistance bands. Peggy likes to join him at the local fitness center for a half-mile of water walking.
Now that Bryce has less inflammation, the arthritis in his knees doesn’t bother him as much. He has more energy and can climb stairs with ease.
Family and friends are starting to take notice of the Webbs’ new way of life. They listen more when Bryce and Peggy talk about their activities and how much better they feel.
Twelve grandkids – and another on the way – keep Peggy and Bryce in constant motion. It’s a treat to go to their daughter’s home for a meal, where they know she will serve plenty of plant-based foods.
“You have to lead by example and that means be in good health,” said Bryce. “Like they say, you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.”
Living well after a heart attack
Bryce still recalls what his doctor at the VA said about the Webbs’ decision to join the Ornish program.
“He said, ‘I’m very proud of you. It takes great responsibility to change your lifestyle,’” Bryce explained.
Now Bryce looks forward to his next checkups at the VA. He knows his doctor will notice the transformation in his health and encourage him to stick with his routine for life.
Bryce and Peggy also are talking about a return trip to Indiana. A refresher course offered through the Ornish program is just the right medicine for them. They know it can help them keep on course to eat well, stress less, move more and connect more with people for a lifetime.
Goshen Heart & Vascular Center offers the 72-hour Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program every four to six weeks. Medicare and other health insurance carriers cover costs of the program for qualified participants.
For more information about the Ornish program, contact Connie Dobson, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Services, at (574) 364-2587.