Colorado Springs Hospital Launches Ornish Lifestyle Medicine for Fighting Heart Disease

Anyone who has had heart disease or survived a heart attack knows the importance of making lifestyle changes to improve their health and prevent a recurrence. That’s where the Penrose-St. Francis Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program can be a game changer. It’s reportedly the first and only program scientifically proven to slow, stop and even reverse the progression of heart disease.

The Penrose-St. Francis Heart and Vascular Center has one of only two such programs in southern Colorado; the other is at South Denver Cardiology Associates, A Centura Health Clinic.

Every week for nine weeks, participants attend two four-hour sessions "focused on bringing about sustainable lifestyle changes in four areas: personal nutrition, exercise, love and support, and stress management," says nurse Robyn Stein, director of heart and vascular care with Centura Health, which offers the program at Penrose-St. Francis.

The small, consistent groups of participants share the goal of reversing their heart disease and improving their well-being. They’re led by an unchanging team of clinicians – a specially certified heart health team of physicians, nurses, dietitians, stress management specialists, exercise professionals and an executive chef.

The hospital launched its pilot program last July with six patients. It’s had 40 patients since. At least two of them had only rave reviews for the program.

"When I had my first heart attack in 2011, they put a stent in and told me my arteries had a lot of buildup clogging them. The doctor told me to exercise and diet," said George "Matt" Walker. "When I had the second episode in 2017, the doctor recommended that I attend this new heart health program."

Over the nine weeks, the 72-year-old lost 20 pounds and lowered his LDL, the bad artery-clogging cholesterol.

"When I started the program, my LDL cholesterol was 140," he said. "At the end of the program, it had dropped to 55, which was a shock."

His plant-based diet was responsible. Jodi Woodruff, the program’s executive chef, fed participants a plant-based meal after each session. Woodruff, classically trained in French cuisine, had to nix the eggs, dairy and heavy fats she typically used and focused on nutritious meals that patients could prepare at home quickly and easily.

Walker, who grew up in South Carolina enjoying fried chicken and bacon, said he has "gotten used to the veggies" and enjoys them.

"I cut out the fat and use just a little bit of canola oil when cooking," he said. "If I splurge and eat out, I get a salad and small beef fillet. By the time I finish the salad, I’m already full. I end up with enough food to take home for a second meal."

He also joined a gym to maintain his daily exercise and does the program’s other elements.

"During the nine weeks, they taught us the whole nine yards – managing stress, how to relax, eat better and importance of exercise," he said. "I’m going to stick with it."

Diann Tomar sang the same praises. At 74, she had a heart catheterization in 2017 for pulmonary hypertension.

"During the process, they found six blockages and were unable to stent any of them," she said. "They couldn’t do bypass surgery either."

The Ornish program was recommended, and after nine weeks, her cholesterol and triglycerides were down.

"I lost 40 pounds," she said. "I feel stronger than I ever have and have more energy. I loved the program."

She gave high marks and shout-outs to the team of professionals:

– Dr. Robert Cadigan is the program medical director and oversees all aspects of the patient’s progress, providing on-site supervision during all of the sessions at The Lane Center.

– Melanie Faulkender, a registered nurse and program coordinator, "was a great cheerleader and watched my health like a hawk."

– Kelsey Loy, an exercise physiologist, M.S., RCEP, "taught us core and stability exercise routines."

– Tricia Mooney, a stress management specialist, B.S., RYT-500, "enlightened me to yoga, which was new to me, but now I’m sold on its health values."

– Jodi Woodruff, executive chef, taught them "the Ornish way of eating and cooking."

– Jenifer Fournier, registered dietitian: "Thanks to her nutrition classes, I now read (food) labels and watch out for fat and sugar content," Tomar said. "I do not count calories. I eat no fish, fowl, beef or pork."

"I found most of the recipes very good," Tomar said. "My favorite was the Ornish southwestern black bean burgers. I also liked the date and cocoa truffles and holiday nog."

Stein said Penrose sees about 1,000 cardiac rehabilitation patients a year, and they’ve seen a big difference between this program and the traditional cardiac rehab program that most hospitals provide.

"On our traditional program, a patient might have a2-pound weight loss," Stein said. "Now we’re seeing an average weight loss of 10 pounds. But the big difference is in waist and hip measurements. This is the problematic area of weight gain and a predictor of heart disease. Also there’s improved lack of depression, which is evidenced by depression score improvement by 50 percent from start to finish of the program."

Pediatricians are leery of giving fruit juice to children

Children shouldn’t drink much fruit juice, says the policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Schoolchildren, ages 7 to 18, should limit consumption to 8 ounces a day. Preschoolers ages 4 to 6 can have 4 to 6 ounces a day, while toddlers ages 1 to 3 should have no more than 4 ounces a day. And babies should not drink any juice.

Given that most Americans need to increase fruit and vegetables in their diets, and that good diet habits can be established during childhood, why is juice so worrisome?

“The recommendations are centered around two arguments,” says Steven Abrams, a pediatrician at the University of Texas and one of the policy statement authors. Fruit juice is fruit with the fiber and some vitamins taken out, and it damages teeth. “Some pediatricians say no juice at all. I think that’s a bit tough. It is a fruit serving.”

When Gary LeRoy, a family physician in Dayton, Ohio, sees his youngest patients, he appeals to parents’ common sense. “An excessive amount of anything is not good,” he says. “Moderation is the key.”

LeRoy helped create a program with his county’s public health board called 5-2-1-0. The name refers to five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, a two-hour limit on screen time, one hour of physical activity, and zero sugary drinks. It’s a simple rule of thumb for a healthy lifestyle for all county residents.

As for fruit juice, LeRoy says, “If you use juice to count as one of the fruit and vegetable servings, then make sure it is 100 percent fruit juice.”

There are pure juices, and then there are juice beverages or cocktails. The latter typically has added ingredients, such as sugars or preservatives. Anything labeled 100 percent fruit juice comes only from fruit, with no added sugar.

But that doesn’t mean no sugar. A 4.23-ounce box of Mott’s apple juice contains 14 grams of sugar, and the same-size serving of white grape juice from Apple & Eve has 15 grams. That’s more than 3 teaspoons’ worth. A 6-ounce box of Minute Maid orange juice contains 18 grams of sugar, similar to the same-size serving of Coca-Cola (19.5 grams in half a 12-ounce can — all added sugar, in this case).

Penrose-St. Francis ranked as 6th best hospital in Colorado by U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report has ranked Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, which operates Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center in Colorado Springs, as the sixth best hospital in Colorado.

Penrose-St. Francis tied for sixth best with three hospitals — Medical Center of Aurora, Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree and St. Joseph Hospital in Denver — in a ranking headed by University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. Nationally, the list is led by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. No Colorado hospital made the top 20 in the nationwide ranking, and no other Colorado Springs hospital made the ranking.

The magazine’s annual rankings, in their 29th year, are designed to help patients and doctors decide where to receive care. The magazine compared more than 4,500 medical centers nationwide across 25 specialties, procedures and conditions. This year, 158 hospitals were nationally ranked in at least one of the 16 specialties evaluated, while 29 hospitals received a high-performing rating in all nine procedures and conditions evaluated.

Penrose-St. Francis was either not ranked or not eligible for the specialty ratings because it didn’t perform enough procedures in the specialty, but it received high-performing ratings in urology, aortic valve and colon cancer surgeries and hip and knee replacement surgeries.

The rankings are available at The nonprofit was tied for eighth in last year’s ranking with Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, receiving high-performing ratings in aortic valve and colon cancer surgies and hip and knee replacement surgeries.

“This recognition illustrates our commitment to excellence and is a testament to the hard work of our teams, including clinicians and physician partners,” said Dr. Brian Erling, interim CEO of Penrose-St. Francis and senior vice president and chief clinical officer for its parent firm, Centennial-based Centura Health.



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