Healthwatch 16: How the Ornish Program Helps Combat Heart Disease

PLAINS TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Dr. Dean Ornish is a doctor and author who has been researching heart disease for decades. Now, a program he created is available at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center for a certain group of patients who need it most.

Jack Marchese is used to walking the pathways at Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre. The 54-year-old from Mountain Top is there a lot now, trying to stay active since his heart attack 2-and-a-half years ago.

"It was just a super scary experience, and it makes you realize your mortality," Marchese said.

Marchese is a recent graduate of the Ornish program, now offered at Geisinger Wyoming Valley near Wilkes-Barre. It was created by the nationally recognized Dr. Dean Ornish and supervised by GWV cardiologist Dr. Bryan Martin.

"He's been doing research in this since the 1990s. That research actually shows reversal of heart disease," Dr. Martin said.

The Ornish program is intense cardiac rehab. It's nine weeks long, two 4-hour sessions per week, focusing on exercise, group support, stress management, and nutrition.

Dr. Martin says the change he sees in the participants is remarkable.

"You could just tell their energy had changed. Their position towards the disease they have, a disease they thought was untreatable, uncurable, they actually now feel better. Less medication, better blood sugar control, better blood pressure control," explained Dr. Martin.

"You have to become a vegetarian! That was one of the hardest things, initially. But now it's almost second nature, know what I mean?" Marchese said.

Marchese admits he struggled at first, but he grew to enjoy the food and nutrition tips. He also learned meditation and yoga techniques and how important it is to reach out to others in his class for help. His cholesterol is down and his peace of mind is way up.

"A lot more energy, a lot lighter. I've lost 25 pounds and most of that is diet," Marchese said. "Oh my God, I wish everybody could go through this program."

The Ornish program is not for everyone. It is open to patients with certain diagnoses.

Dr. Martin says Geisinger Wyoming Valley has graduated six patients so far, and another eight are currently enrolled.