In December, the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine held its closing circle ceremony for graduates of its Healing Hearts Program. This was the 35th group that had been through an intensive six months of lifestyle and behavioral changes.
The ceremony was incredibly moving and emotional, as program participants — many who could not hold back their tears — expressed their gratitude to the staff as well as to each other. It was clear this program provided much more than physical healing.
“This is such a great example of coming back to health,” says Erminia Guarneri, MD, an interventional cardiologist and the center’s medical director. “Just look around this room.”
Before starting the Healing Hearts Program, each person undergoes a comprehensive evaluation that includes advanced lipid analysis and stress testing, among other things. For the next six months, participants attend sessions at the center three times a week.
The first full week, participants learn about the program’s main components: nutrition, exercise, stress management, group support and spirituality.
From weeks two to 12, these components are put into action. Participants get regular cardiovascular exercise, attend support group meetings and lectures and attend cooking school and stress management sessions.
During the last 12 weeks, participants attend one four-hour session each week, with emphasis on incorporating the healthy behavioral changes they have learned into their daily lives.
“This is a unique program that combines high technology with lifestyle change,” explains Dr. Guarneri. “It focuses on treating the whole patient — mind, body and spirit. And there is no other program in the country where a patient can get high-tech treatment, such as a bypass or stent procedure, and be just as aggressive about prevention.”
John Daley, 58, enrolled in the Healing Hearts Program with his wife Kathleen after having quadruple bypass surgery.
“Luckily, I came to Scripps,” he says. “The cardiology and surgery couldn’t have been better.”
No one would have guessed that this lean, toned man, who appeared to be the picture of health, was a cardiac patient. Prior to the surgery, he had been walking about six miles a day and watching his weight. John’s wife, who joined the program with him to provide support, had also been cooking healthy meals. And his cholesterol was only 160.
But John had been under a tremendous amount of stress.
“I had my own business, which I have since sold,” he says.
For John, the stress management and group support the program offers were just what the doctor ordered.
“I consider myself to be an introverted person,” he says. “I don’t have a big need to share my feelings. I’m still an introvert, but the group has really helped. You learn everyone has the same basic needs and you learn what they’re going through.”
“And we all went through this with him,” says Deniece Medin-Beck, who came to the center after having a heart attack. “We all had problems not related to our heart crisis.”
At age 47, Deniece had a heart attack while she was at home. After her recovery, she enrolled in the Healing Hearts Program.
“I joined the program because I was afraid to eat and exercise,” she explains. “The program got me exercising, and I thought that I had been eating pretty well, but I realized I wasn’t.”
Participants who complete the program have greatly improved their heart health. Among the reported heart benefits include a marked reduction or elimination of angina; significantly lower cholesterol; stable and lower blood pressure, improved exercise capacity; improved circulation; weight loss; reduction or elimination of medications; improved quality of life and a more active lifestyle; and heightened spiritual awareness.
John’s total cholesterol is now 100, with his LDL (bad) cholesterol between 60 and 65. He walks 2 miles with his wife every morning and meditates once or twice a day.
“We did this in the program,” he notes.
“I feel like I’m 30-years-old,” John said during the closing circle ceremony. “I would recommend this program to anyone — and I will!”
Holding his hand, Kathleen looked around the room.
“You all gave me my husband back,” she says. “I’m blessed — twice blessed.”