“I have always been active and exercised regularly — that’s why it was such a surprise when I passed out for no apparent reason in 2014,” said Wilma Petenbrink, 68, of Dagsboro. “I fell and fractured my spine when I passed out, but throughout my spine treatment, neither I nor my doctor could determine why I’d passed out in the first place.”
At the time, Petenbrink’s blood pressure was low, and although her cholesterol was 249 mg/dl, the doctor wasn’t too concerned because her good cholesterol was also high. But, as time went on, she started noticing pains in her arm, and her breathing became labored.
“I was even waking up at night because I was having so much trouble breathing,” she recalled.
Then, one day, she felt a continuous burning in her throat.
“My father passed away at the age of 43 of a heart attack; my mother developed a heart condition; two of my sisters had heart attacks; and my older brother had open-heart surgery — so I knew the symptoms of heart disease very well. That’s why, when I felt that continuous burning, I knew that I needed to visit a cardiologist,” she said.
After her visit to the cardiologist, she was sent for a heart scan. Because her calcium count was too high, she had a heart catheterization instead. The heart catheterization revealed four blockages — one artery was 80 percent blocked, another artery was 75 percent blocked, and a third artery and small blood vessel were both 50 percent blocked.
Petenbrink had two stents inserted but was told that the other artery and blood vessel wouldn’t hold a stent. After the procedure, the cardiologist recommended the Ornish Reversal Program at Beebe Healthcare.
“I didn’t really want to do it at first — the thought of committing to a program for nine weeks and learning a new lifestyle was scary — but he was persistent,” she said. “Still, I was 67 years old and had lived and cooked a certain way all of my life; I thought I couldn’t learn something new. But, now that I’ve been through the program, I am very happy to say that I was wrong about that!”
Petenbrink said the Ornish Reversal Program has really changed her perspective on life. The program takes care of the whole person, rather than focusing on small parts of an individual’s life. It combines the core elements of group support, stress management, exercise and nutrition.
“Coming into the program, I thought I had everything all put together, but after participating in group support, I realized that I didn’t,” Wilma said. “Now, I live in the moment more than I used to and enjoy where I am in my life. I’ve learned that I need to put things down and leave situations behind if I can’t change them.”
Stress management is one of the components that can really help individuals commit to the Ornish lifestyle. By learning techniques to manage stress, the nutrition and exercise aspects become easier to handle, representatives said.
“I now read food labels — something that I never did before — and have learned a whole new way to cook. My friends are even trying to cook Ornish-approved recipes because they see how well I’m doing,” she said.
With the help of the Beebe Healthcare dietitian Deb Dobies and chef Miguel Cuevas, individuals are given information that can help them stick with their nutrition plans even through the holidays and while on vacation.
“At first, I was like a fish-out-of-water on the program, but now I feel good about myself and what I’ve accomplished,” Petenbrink said. “My cholesterol has dropped from 249 down to 124, and I was able to eliminate my cholesterol medication, which was my original goal when I started the program. I’ve also lost weight and decreased the inflammation in my body by 80 percent.”
“My children are also really proud of me, and that’s so nice to see. They are my biggest cheerleaders. I call them the ‘food police,’ and although I appreciate their concern, I am very determined to stick to the program with or without their policing. I want to see my grandchildren grow up and enjoy great grandchildren someday, and I know that sticking with the program will help me do that.”
Petenbrink said she would encourage anyone with heart issues or past heart attacks to consider the Ornish Reversal Program because it has been such a blessing to her and allowed her to improve her health.
“My words of wisdom for other people who are thinking about the program would be to take the opportunity as a gift. I was opposed to participating at first and very concerned about the time commitment, but the nine weeks went by so fast! I even miss the program now — the team at Beebe Healthcare and the other participants have become like a family to me,” she said.
“So, to anyone who is thinking about joining the program, I’d say this: ‘If you are like I was and think you can’t do the program, know that you can do it. Everybody can.’”
For more information on the Ornish Reversal Program at Beebe Healthcare, go to https://www.beebehealthcare.org/ornish or call (302) 645-3514.