“It’s not really that hard. You just have to decide: Do I want to live or not?”
With a hearty chuckle, that’s how Greg Lesak describes what kept him going during his time in the Ornish Reversal Program. It’s a sentiment echoed by many participants of the program’s first cohort, which began last September and concluded in November.
“Look, I’d love to say it’s been easy the whole time. It was difficult, especially during the holidays,” Greg says, admitting that a complete lifestyle overhaul isn’t as easy as he makes it out to be. “But I just told myself, ‘Hey, I want to live.’”
Greg had a heart attack in January 2015. The 68-year-old man was constantly devoid of energy, so he lived a sedentary lifestyle. His feet always hurt and he had gout. Simply walking into work left him gasping for air.
He had had multiple bypasses, yet one his arteries was totally blocked while the other was 50% blocked. Surgery was an option, but if anything had gone wrong, Greg wouldn’t have left the operating room alive.
So Dr. Saumil Oza, a cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Vincent’s, referred Greg to the Ornish Reversal Program. He was eager for any chance he could get, and the program’s four core tenets sounded simple enough: maintain a healthy diet, exercise more often, manage stress better, and find support in your peers.
“It’s simple, but it’s not easy,” Greg clarifies. Indeed, while the principles of the program seemed obvious enough, Greg wasn’t ready to buy in right away.
“The first couple of sessions I thought, ‘Eh, this won’t work,’” Greg recalls. “You just have to stay with it, and it gets better.”
Greg took his own advice and, sure enough, it got better. He started the program weighing 300 lbs. He’s currently down to 250 lbs. Sedentary no longer accurately describes his lifestyle, either; Greg has since joined a gym and regularly does yoga.
The latter of which, however, has brought its own unique set of challenges.
“You have to understand, I’m a dinosaur. Technology and I don’t get along,” Greg laughs earnestly. “Honestly, the hardest part of yoga for me has been figuring out how to set up my new DVD player to play my lesson.”
In 2000, Gregg Adair underwent a five-way bypass surgery. Just a few months ago, he was still relying on a nitroglycerine patch and several medications to keep his heart going. It took a serious toll on his quality of life.
“I couldn’t even walk across the street without feeling pretty strong chest pain. As a normally active person, I couldn’t do much but sit around. I was depressed,” Gregg describes his life before the Ornish Reversal Program. “It was a mess, quite frankly. I knew I needed to do something.”
Gregg found an ad in the Times Union for the program, so he applied. Soon thereafter, he was attending his first session with a handful of other heart disease patients.
“When we all got together the first time, it was actually very pleasant,” Gregg says. “It was comforting to know there were others who shared the same concerns as me.”
After the first week or two, Gregg hadn’t seen much difference. During his third week in the program, he had an angiogram that determined he should have a four-way bypass. But with his previous bypass, he wasn’t a good candidate. The news dealt a blow to Gregg, but it didn’t stop him from pushing forward.
“Once I got into the rhythm of putting the program into practice at home, I started seeing tremendous results. I lost about 20 lbs. and was able to start weight training again. I was off the nitro patch within a three or four weeks and I was able to drop one of my medications. And my chest pain was finally gone.”
With the first cohort done and so many positive testimonials coming out of it, it’s hard to deny the Ornish Reversal Program’s effectiveness. Gregg, for one, has already recommended the program to several people.
“I don’t see where you can go wrong by going down the path they lay in front of you,” Greg says confidently. “It might be based on a foundation of simple principles, but the instructors really explain why these changes matter, and that helps it all make sense. And when something makes sense, you just do it.”