What if I told you that you could correct your heart disease in 72 hours? It sounds like a wild claim but the folks at Maui’s first Ornish program take that number to heart. Dr. Dean Ornish, the namesake of the lifestyle medicine program, developed the program after 37 years of research. The research of his nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research Institute has shown that his program of lifestyle changes can reverse chronic diseases and turn on health-promoting genes.
“On August 12, 2010, after 16 years of review, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began providing Medicare coverage for my intensive lifestyle program for reversing heart disease under a new benefit category, ‘intensive cardiac rehabilitation,’” Ornish says in a June 2015 Scientific American article. “Many insurance companies are also providing coverage. My colleagues and I have been training and certifying teams of health care professionals at leading hospitals, clinics and health systems in this lifestyle program for reversing heart disease.”
Maui very own Ornish Program is at the Hui No Ke Ola Pono Health Center. Their community-based family practice is one of five Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems created under the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act of 1988. Their mission is to improve the health of Native Hawaiians in an integrated manner with its clients learning how to become their own health advocates. The clinic focuses on the Native Hawaiian community however it will not turn anyone away. Michelle Latorre, Stress Management Specialist, works at the clinic in their Ornish program called Ho‘ola Pu‘uwai meaning healing hearts.
“Participants are referred by doctor, and they need to meet certain medical criteria or number of risk factors to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance,” explains Latorre. “Then they will go through a screening process with our team prior to starting the program to ensure they meet criteria and are motivated to make serious changes. Each cohort is a group of eight to 15 people that will experience the nine-week program together. They meet at our facility for four hours, twice a week. A total of 72 experiential on-site hours must be met. Each one of the four hours are dedicated to the components of the program, so one hour of nutrition, stress management, fitness, and group support. They also must do a required number of hours of the components at home and track their time, nutrition and diet, etc. We all have access to an online portal to oversee the data is being put in by participant every week, and their overall adherence.”
There are a few qualifications for the program depending on family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic health issues like depression, obesity, diabetes, or other risk factors. Medicaid and Quest will cover participants fully, and Medicare and other providers have partial coverage. HNKOP also has a sliding scale fee some can apply for.
“This program has been proven to undo heart disease by dealing with the root causes and not just its effects,” notes Latorre. “The combined effect of all four lifestyle elements makes the transformative difference. Participants see improved health and well-being rather quickly. Disease and conditions regress; symptoms and pain disappear. We anticipate it to be challenging for most people to make the switch to a plant-based diet, plus spend a bit more time and money in planning meals and integrating the diet into their everyday routine. For those folks who aren’t accustomed to sharing thoughts and emotions openly, group support can also be challenging at first.”
Yet the results of learning together with a group is one of the key components to the program.
“The success of the program also carries on after the nine weeks as most participants continue the Ornish lifestyle for the rest of their lives,” says Latorre. “The bonding within the cohort is also very strong, and an alumni group is formed after each cohort ‘graduates,’ so they all stay in touch maintaining an incredible support system and strong relationships.”
The idea behind lifestyle changes are to reprogram and reboot body systems seem simple, but the results are seen in the science.
“You can start making lifestyle changes immediately, whether it’s integrating healthier foods, or beginning a daily 10-minute meditation practice: baby steps,” says Latorre. “Of course the more severe your disease or condition is, the more dramatic changes you should consider making. The research done from Ornish participants over the past 37 years shows that once participants notice their physical and emotional health improving, disease reversing, and even their relationships with others at home and work improving, they end up wanting to make even bigger changes and adhere to them.”
HNKOP also runs Simply Healthy Cafe at its campus in the Cameron Center. The cafe has affordable and healthy cuisine that falls in line with their values. For more information on their Ornish program or other offered wellness services, call (808) 244-4647 or visit HNKOP.org.