Patient Stories

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Patients in our program consistently improve their health markers and make long-term lifestyle changes. To learn more about the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program, call 310-825-0014.

People come to the UCLA Health Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program for what it remedies, but they stay for what it ignites.

Supportive communities of fellow participants sustain the lifestyle changes, and benefits remain long after completion of the formal program.


Robert's Story

Laura's Story


Victor's Story

Read testimonial 


Kenneth's Story

Testimonials

Benjamin L.

I’m Benjamin. 
I’m active and energetic. 
I’m undoing it.

Age: 50 Years old
Location: Los Angeles
Job: Police Officer, former Military Petty Officer
Ornish Site: UCLA Health
Health Challenges: Heart Attack, Family History of Heart Disease
Undoing it since: 2015

In the late afternoon of June 23rd, I was on the treadmill in the middle of my 5 mile run. When I reached the three mile mark, I started to feel chest pain—and it wasn’t any kind of chest pain that I’d had before. It was radiating to my left arm. I was in the medical field prior to becoming a police officer, so I knew that that type of pain was one of the classic symptoms of a heart attack, but I didn’t really put two and two together. So I hopped off the treadmill, helped my girlfriend with the yard work, went to sleep, and the next day I went to work—all things that I would do on a normal day. But the pain persisted. Finally, I asked one of my detectives to drive me to the hospital around midday the next day. The pain just wasn’t going away. At the hospital, they told me that I was having a heart attack, and I was shocked. Well, I guess I wasn’t totally shocked. I’ve always stayed in good shape and I exercise very often—I was in the military for most of my adult life—so I didn’t expect to have heart disease. But my dad died of a massive heart attack when he was 49, and I always figured that if I could make it past 49, I’d be in the clear. But there I was; 49 years old and having a heart attack—just like him. During the catheterization, they also found out that my left coronary artery was 90 percent blocked, so they put a stent in, and my right coronary artery was about 30/40 percent blocked, but they left that one alone. I could hardly believe what they were telling me. After regrouping from hearing the initial diagnosis, I told the cardiologist that I’d do whatever it takes to get better—“just tell me when and where to show up.” A few days later, I got a call about the Ornish Reversal Program, and enrolled.

I always figured that if I could make it past 49, I’d be in the clear. But there I was, 49 years old and having a heart attack—just like him.

Fast forward to the fifth week of the program. During our stress management session, I started having chest pain, but I didn’t say anything to anyone. “How,” I wondered “could I be having a heart attack if I’m already following the program?” But again, it persisted, so the next morning my fiancée and I went to the hospital. At the hospital, my cardiologist told me that the pain could be from one of three things: the stent had failed, the 30-40% blockage had gotten worse, or the muscles around the heart were in spasm. But when the doctors went into my heart, they not only found that my heart disease hadn’t progressed, and that the stent hadn’t failed, but that the 30-40 percent blockage in my artery had all but disappeared after just 5 weeks on the program. 5 weeks. It turned out that I was in pain because I was on the wrong medication, so the doctors switched my medication and haven’t had any pain since. On top of that, I’ve lost over 30 pounds on the program. It’s been exactly what I needed; 5 weeks for reversal is—my doctors assure me—pretty amazing.

The 30-40 percent blockage in my artery had disappeared after just 5 weeks on the program. 5 weeks.

One analogy that I like to use for the program is that it’s like my police belt—it gives participants the tools we need for any situation, and it teaches us how to use them. The teaching is important; in the Department, they didn’t just give us our gun, and our handcuffs, our baton, and our pepper spray and say, “okay, get out there!” They taught us where those things are on the belt and how to use them appropriately. That’s exactly what the Ornish Reversal Program does for us participants; it gives us the tools—nutrition, stress management, group support, and exercise—and teaches us how to use them. So reversal is in the participants’ hands, my hands, not anyone else’s—which is empowering. It also about re-taking control; police officers want to be in control at all times, and I’m no exception. But when you’re sick, and don’t have many options, you don’t have that control—over your health, your future, your anything. Well, by giving me the tools, this program has given me back control of my health. I’m really thankful for that. Ultimately, going through the program gives you a new perspective on life. I appreciate things more since I started it, and it keeps me focused on my bottom line. For me, the bottom line is that I don’t want to have another heart attack. A few months ago, the question was “when will I have another heart attack?” Now, the question is “if I will have another heart attack.” And I’m confident that, with the help of the program, I can complete the cycle—from “when,” to “if,” to “never.” That means a lot. Moving forward, I will continue to follow this program for the rest of my life, and I’ll do that because of everything I have to live for. Number one, my mother is 83, and she’s already buried a son, and I don’t want her to bury another before her time. Number two, I have three children, and I want to see my daughters walk down the aisle. Number three, I have a granddaughter and I want to see her success in life. Number four, I want to be here with my fiancée; we have plans—lots of them—and I fully intend to follow through on them. So I have a lot to be around for, and I really believe that the Ornish Reversal Program will help me make sure that I’m not going anywhere for a long time. If you go into it with an open mind, I know that it can do the same for you.

Victor L.

I am Victor.
I am positive.
I’m undoing it.

Age: 66 Years old
Location: California
Job: Program Representative, Substitute Teacher
Health Challenges:  Heart Attack, More than 7 Stents, Quintuple Bypass
Undoing it since: 2014

I’ve had a long struggle with heart disease. In 1998 I suffered a minor heart attack and had two stents put into my heart. Since then, I’ve had several more stents put in—at least 7, but I’m not exactly sure how many. My chest pain continued into early 2014 and I became completely dependent on medicine; I’d have to take 3 or 4 nitros a day just to alleviate my pain. I felt absolutely helpless. If I wanted to keep living, I’d have to take a pill. Carrying my medicine felt like I was carrying a chain. Eventually I went back to the doctor, who found some abnormalities and recommended even more stents. During the surgery, the doctors found that I had three arteries severely clogged—one 100 percent, another 80 percent, and a third 70 percent. We finally realized the severity of the situation and—just six days later— I had quintuple bypass surgery. The surgery was a success, but when I tried to walk I couldn’t make it to the other end of the room. I knew that I had to improve my wellbeing and began looking around for different recovery techniques. Luckily, I found out about the Ornish program and became a part of the first cohort at UCLA. Since then, my health has completely turned around. I’ve lost 30 pounds and 10 inches around my waist, my heart pain has severely decreased, and I feel more knowledgeable about my health today than I ever have before. Even more importantly, I’ve never felt this clean inside my body before. It’s hard to even put the feeling into words—it feels like my organs took a nice refreshing shower. It’s a new beginning; everything inside of me—my heart, my stomach, my liver, my lungs—is functioning at 100 percent. In fact, just this morning my daughter commented on how good I seemed to be doing; I smiled and told her that the last time I felt this good was when I was 18 years old. My energy level has also improved dramatically. Before the surgery, I’d be tired if I only slept for six hours, but now if I sleep for six hours I feel great! I stay up all day without any problems at all—and I’m far more active than I used to be. I get up at five o’clock in the morning and walk for at least 60 minutes outside. I really enjoy that time; there’s hardly anyone on the roads, hardly any traffic, and I’m even able to see the stars. I just feel great—I’m not hungry, I’m not tired—I can’t believe how good I feel thanks to the program.

The program has also allowed me to limit my dependence on medication. My blood sugar medicine was cut completely, my blood pressure medicine was cut by 75 percent, and I expect to cut out even more medicine the next time I see my doctor. I used to take 30 pills a day and it would make me sick. Today, I take just 5 pills and my body feels no stress whatsoever. I’ve taken back my independence; I’m extremely thankful to have reduced my medicines so dramatically. Without the program I would not be where I am today. I can say that with confidence because I have friends who have attempted to recover from heart disease using traditional methods, but haven’t had the level of success that I’ve had. I have a neighbor in that very situation; he had open heart surgery but hasn’t changed his lifestyle or his habits, and now he’s already beginning to have problems again. Luckily, my experience has been different. I believe in the program; I expect to live and follow it for a long time. To someone who is considering joining the program, I would say don’t hesitate. It is so rewarding and it’s so simple—and you’ll feel 100 percent better. I’ve never felt so good in my whole life, and anyone can do it. No matter what you have—heart disease, cancer, diabetes—I’d recommend the Ornish program. Just look at what’s happened to me; I’ve lost weight, I feel better, and I’ll be around for my family for a long time. I hope to see my grandchildren graduate from high school and get their diplomas, and in a few years I’d like to see them walking down the aisle, getting masters degrees, and maybe even getting PHDs. I want to support them, help them, and be brave for them in any way I can—and I believe that the program has helped me to do that. If you join the program, it can do the same for you.

Featured Alumni

Richard Sassin

Richard Sassin, Artist, Writer, Photographer, Graduate of the UCLA Health Ornish Program

Born in NYC, raised in Babylon, educated in London, Paris, Rome & Berlin, chosen by Columbia Pictures to come to LA and settled in Santa Monica where the world of culture & movies was opened to him by Christopher Isherwood & Don Bachardy who has painted his portrait for over thirty years. David Hockney has, also, painted him & his Hockney portrait toured the world ending at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Richard has been an artist since birth in all forms. He has, also, worked as an actor, writer, director, photographer, model, columnist, rock-n-roller, roadie, and in various other creative fields.

richard sassin

After being included in the UCLA Health Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program / Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation was inspired to create a series of paintings focused on the heart. This particular painting entitled, “Ornish Healing Heart,” was conceived after an enormous influx of hope & resolution introduced by the Program. It is meant to represent the letting go of any previous restraints or damage to the heart by allowing a clear bright new world and perspective to take the heart in reverse and offer the promise of healing and an engaged and extended life force. It is acrylic on canvas 8” x 10” and would be quite powerful as poster or banner size. It is offered to the Program and UCLA Health as a token of gratitude and inspiration

As a grateful patient of the 9-week UCLA Health Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program, Richard Sassin was deeply touched and inspired by the UCLA Health Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program and painted the two paintings, “Ornish Healing Heart,” and “My Heart is Getting Enlightened.” It is Richard’s intention and hope that his artwork will inspire others on their healing journey.

Richard sat down with Amy Lau Herzberg, Business Development Manager, to share his experience attending the 9-week UCLA Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program.

Q: Please provide a summary of your heart history health issues.

A: Family history of heart disease. Total of three stents. At 50 had first stent (2001), second 2002. 3rd in Feb 2018 because previous stent was blocked. No other medical problems.  Healthy active life but overwhelmed with stress related work environment-Casting director for TV commercials. Now Retired.

Q: What is one word that you identify with most-one word that you feel describes who you are not oly as pertain to the program, but in life?

A: Artist

Q: Take me through your struggles with Heart Disease to where you are today.

A: Three medical heart situations. Otherwise healthy. After Ornish Program feeling healthier in body and mind.

Q: What are some of the medical benefits you've experienced since joining the program?

A: Less stress and generally-a more positive outlook for a healthy life.

Q: Compare and contrast with your lowest point of well-being.

A: After my last heart problem I was very depressed and concerned I would never be able to live a full life. But the UCLA Health Ornish Program has given me enormous hope that by following the program I can now overcome my fears but live with a sense of wellness previously unknown to me.

Q: How has your improved wellbeing helped improve other areas of your life?

A: I have been incredibly creatively painting, writing, photography-and I have developed true friendships with some of my cohorts that have given me great joy and hope.

Q: Has it affected your relationships or your ability to do the things you enjoy most? What about work?

A: Oh, yes, I would say Ornish has re-opened my doors of perception and given me a new enthusiasm for life and creative work.

Q: What has been your most rewarding moment as a part of the program?

A: Other than becoming friends with some of my cohorts, I believe the one hour Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Stress Management CD has given me a focus and program that sustains and encourages me every day. My diet was never bad but I find the Ornish diet has given me a youthful energy that was missing and I am refreshed by it.

Q: If you could say one thing to someone who is thinking about joining the the program, or someone who has heart disease and doesn't know about it, what would you say?

A: DO IT NOW! The program will change your life for the better and give you steps to take to continue growing and living.

Q: How would your life be different today if you'd never heard of UCLA Health Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program?

A: I believe I would have become depressed and stressed-out to a dangerous point both physically and psychologically and suffered those negative consequences.

Q: Have any of the components had a particularly large impact on you or been different than you expected coming into the program?

A: Again, I would say the Stress Management Aspects surprised me initially but quickly became a vital part of my life style.

Q: How so? How has this translated into your life outside of the program?

A: I am less stressed and less likely to become stressed-especially, to the point where something negatively affects my health. I have learned to "let go" of those factors that lead to confusion, unhappiness and doubt. I try to relax and see the bigger picture that is full of life.

Q: Participants often say that they want to get better to see their children grow up, or travel, or get back to doing the things that they love most. What motivates you to improve your wellbeing and be around for as long as possible?

A: I want to help those I love to live better and stronger lives from what I have learned and experienced. And I want to be abele to share my creative gifts with the world and offset some of the negativity and pain rising around us.

Q: How has your outlook changed from when you had your heart issues to where you are today?

A: My outlook has grown more hopeful, more positive, more grateful, more optimistic because the UCLA Ornish Program has given me a new lease on life. I still may have problems but I see the solutions and possibilities much clearer as the road stretches out before me without any dead ends in sight.

View Richard's artwork

Alumni Artwork

artwork

Artist’s Inspiration

Walking on a beautiful day after dark thoughts of mortality haunted me and my heart, I suddenly felt a surge of enlightenment and the joy of being alive arose. I returned home to document that experience with this painting. After being included in the UCLA Health Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation was inspired to create a series of paintings focused on the heart.

This particular painting entitled, “Ornish Healing Heart,” was conceived after an enormous influx of hope & resolution introduced by the Program. It is meant to represent the letting go of any previous restraints or damage to the heart by allowing a clear bright new world and perspective to take the heart in reverse and offer the promise of healing and an engaged and extended life force.

artwork

This painting is offered to the UCLA Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program as a token of gratitude and inspiration.

In the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program’s Stress Management CD, there is there is an instruction to lift your heart and allow enlightenment to fill it. This painting is my representation of that moment.

To learn more about the artist and his story, please click here.