Want to stop heart disease in its tracks? The Ornish Reversal Program, offered by Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach, could help you do just that. Scientifically proven to halt the progression of heart disease and, in some instances, even reverse the damaging effects, the program is the first of its kind in Virginia.
Created by Dr. Dean Ornish, physician to former President Bill Clinton, the program focuses on four key areas to improve heart health: nutrition, exercise, stress management and emotional support. The program consists of 18 sessions, each lasting four hours. Participants learn how to live a heart-healthy lifestyle from a team of seven professionals, including cardiologist Dr. Gunadhar Panigrahi, program director Sharon Henley, a nurse case manager, and experts in the fields of stress management, behavioral health, fitness, and nutrition.
“Studies have shown that comprehensive lifestyle changes like those learned in this program can lead to improved heart function,” says Dr. Panigrahi. “There are immense benefits for patients who take part in this program since reversal of symptoms can result in a higher quality of life.”
The Ornish Reversal Program is unique in its approach to care, as it addresses the causes of heart disease, rather than symptoms. Since a healthy diet is the cornerstone of wellness, nutrition is one of the four focuses of the program. Sentara Princess Anne’s executive chef prepares an Ornish-approved lunch for participants to enjoy during an educational session twice a week.
Physical activity is also vital to heart health, and a fitness expert is on hand to explain the benefits of both cardiovascular exercises and strength training. During the sessions, participants learn which activities are most beneficial for them, as well as proper techniques to avoid strain or injury.
The program also explores ways participants can get a handle on their stress levels, as limiting or avoiding stress is essential for a healthy heart. Several stress management techniques are highlighted in the sessions, including restorative yoga, which can be modified by using a chair for those who are unable to get on the floor; muscle relaxation, a process that focuses on tensing and releasing muscles in the body; and guided imagery, a way to use positive words and images to promote relaxation and create positive thoughts.
The fourth component of the program is emotional support, an aspect often overlooked in traditional treatments that only focus on the symptoms of a disease, not the whole person. Emotions play a huge role in how we process information and react to the world around us, so being aware of what we think and feel is important for achieving optimal heart health.
A licensed counselor leads group discussions for participants and provides them with an outlet to talk about the changes they are working on in their lives, as well as any obstacles they may be facing.
“Many times people turn inward after heart surgery or illness,” says Sharon Henley, program director. “Being part of this program will help people learn how they can connect with others and reconnect with important people in their lives. The group sessions give them an outlet for talking about their experiences and their emotions.”
The Ornish Reversal Program is all about fostering connections between heart patients and the foods they eat, the activities they engage in, their emotions, and their friends and family. “Love and support make a huge difference in our lives and our health,” says Henley. To that end, she suggests participants who finish the program create alumni groups to continue providing each other with encouragement.
The Ornish Reversal Program is covered by Medicare, as well as many commercial insurers. A referral from a cardiologist is required before a patient can take part in the sessions. Currently, the sessions are only being held at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach. To qualify for the program, one of the following conditions must be met:
• Acute myocardial infarction within the preceding 12 months
• Coronary artery bypass surgery
• Current stable angina pectoris
• Heart valve repair or replacement
• Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or coronary stenting
• Heart or heart-lung transplant
• Other conditions may be approved based on individual coverage