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A New Chance at Life

Scripps Health patient takes integrative medicine to heart

Dr. Thomas Jon Rykowski didn’t see any reason to give up his favorite foods until he had a heart attack. Now he enjoys a new lifestyle with friends he met in the Lifestyle Change Program.

How many coronary artery stents does it take to convince a fast food junkie to give up cheeseburgers and take up yoga and meditation?

For Dr. Thomas Jon Rykowski, it took five stents to open his blocked coronary arteries — and to transform his life. Until then, the 63-year-old rare book dealer was content to take medication for his diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and chronic pain.

He saw no reason to give up his favorite foods or lose weight. He felt fine and was active, “for an old guy,” as he put it. Then one day, he could no longer ignore the warnings.

“I just didn’t feel right; I thought I had the swine flu or something and asked my wife to take me to an urgent care center,” recalls Dr. Rykowski. “The doctors ran some tests and told me I was having a heart attack.”

Decision to join the Lifestyle Change Program

That’s when Dr. Rykowski met Dr. Elizabeth Kaback, an integrative cardiologist at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. She knew it would take more than medicine to keep him out of the emergency room again, and encouraged him to enroll in the Lifestyle Change Program.

“He was a skeptic about the program, especially the components like music therapy and meditation that didn’t interest him at first,” she says, "but he kept an open mind. He did it all, from spirituality and music therapy classes to cooking lessons and mind-body practices. He met regularly with an exercise physiologist and dietitian and attended educational seminars. These efforts helped him to lose 55 pounds and transform his life.”

Dr. Kaback recently discontinued Dr. Rykowski’s cholesterol and diabetes medications because his numbers had dropped so low as a result of his diet and new lifestyle habits.

“He is a real success,” she says. This success translated into personal triumph. “I feel like I got a new chance at life,” he says. “I have more energy to do the things I love, like walking, surfing and going to the gym. I now do deep breathing exercises every day.”

“I also made a wonderful new friend in the program,” Dr. Rykowski adds. “Stanley and I still work out together three times a week. We walk after our workout and often discuss the way the program saved our lives.”