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Chef Miguel Overcomes Heart Condition To Give Back to Cardiac Patients

Chef Miguel Cuevas joined Beebe Healthcare in 2015 as the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Chef to provide culinary expertise and plant-based nutrition information to cardiac patients at Beebe Healthcare.

“Before I started working with the Ornish program, I was working in the restaurant industry. It was a very hectic profession and I had a very stressful job. Because of that, I didn’t make time for myself and started to neglect my health,” recalls Chef Cuevas. “I was born with a heart condition, but that’s when I really started to get very, very sick; I was afraid my heart was giving up.”

He finally went to the hospital and was immediately admitted for an emergency valve replacement. His doctors couldn’t believe he made it through the procedure – that’s how bad his heart was.

“As I was recovering from the emergency procedure, I asked God to give me an opportunity which would still allow me to enjoy cooking but would be less stressful than the traditional restaurant industry job,” Chef Miguel said. “After my recovery, I spent a year in Mexico training the food service staff of an orphanage. I helped the orphanage open a commercial grade, professional kitchen and taught the staff how to use the foods they had available. This work was life changing. I learned to be more aware of my blessings and give back to the community. I was able to work toward a purpose. In the end, they helped me more than I helped them.”

When he returned to the United States, Chef Miguel learned of an opening for a chef with the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine at Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, Del.

“It was perfect timing. I didn’t know much about the area—it was four hours away from my home—but I knew that the work would be one of the most meaningful things I could do in my career,” recalls Chef Miguel.

For the next year, he commuted back to New York every weekend so his family didn’t have to move and so his daughter could finish her senior year of high school.

“With those obstacles, I could have easily told Beebe, ‘it’s not going to work out,’ but I wanted to help change people lives. I knew that working for this program is what I was meant to do,” Chef Miguel said. “Today, I feel privileged to be able to help Ornish participants. For many, as it was for me, having heart surgery is the easy part – knowing what to do after that is the hard part.”

Chef Miguel understands the hesitation some feel when first coming into the Ornish program. For many, it is an entirely new way of thinking about food and of preparing food.

“I understand their hesitation; before coming to work with the program, even I didn’t understand the full impact of nutrition on our health. But that’s where my role as the Ornish Chef comes in,” he says. “There are so many misconceptions about how to sustain a whole-foods, plant-based diet, so my job is to teach participants how to cook following the nutritional guidelines. Understanding how to cook provides peace of mind and shows them that eating healthy is far easier and more beneficial than they could’ve imagined.”
Some of the participants Chef Miguel works with have never cooked before. That’s where he steps in and shows them that it’s not scary and it’s never too late to learn.

“My goal is to never let participants leave without understanding how they can cook Ornish-approved meals at home,” he says.

No special equipment is needed. They just need to apply basic cooking techniques and have knowledge of alternative foods and cooking solutions.

“The primary ingredient needed for cooking within the Ornish nutrition guidelines is an open mind, and the primary competition for cooking with whole foods is fear,” Chef Miguel said. “Our culture promotes fast food monsters; convenience is killing us. I’ve made a living off of people eating out, but cooking at home is the best option because it allows people to be in charge of their health.”

Chef Miguel recommends stocking a healthy pantry and not buying bulk junk foods. Instead, buy fresh, local products. Set a goal to prepare at least one meal per day and you will see results. “It’s going to taste better, it’s going to be cheaper, and it’s going to be healthier,” he says.

If you do decide to eat out, talk to the chef, take your Ornish Reversal Program food card, or there is always a salad or pasta on the menu. There’s no reason not to follow the nutritional guidelines while eating out.

“I am so proud that this is what I am able to do with my life,” Chef Miguel says. “In the end, I have so much gratitude for the participants and the Ornish program. If you had told me five years ago that I would have a heart valve replacement, leave the restaurant industry, and be the chef for an intensive cardiac rehabilitation program in Delaware, I would have told you that you were crazy. But I listened to my heart and the Ornish program is what it told me to do. I’m so glad it did.”

For more information about Ornish Lifestyle Medicine at Beebe Healthcare, call (302) 645-3514 or go to https://www.beebehealthcare.org/ornish.