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Ken Changed His Life and Health with Ornish
More than 25 years ago, Ken Turoczy, a part-time real estate agent living near Rehoboth Beach, had a heart attack. At the time, he was living in Wilmington with his wife, daughter, and son.
“I remember waking up in the middle of the night and feeling an intense pressure on my chest. I thought it was because of the oysters I had eaten earlier,” Ken recalls. “I went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet trying to catch my breath. I couldn’t speak.”
When he didn’t improve, his wife managed to get him into the car to take him to the nearest emergency room.
“I really don’t know how she managed to get me in the car. I couldn’t breathe. I was dying. I couldn’t talk to her,” Ken says of that harrowing time. “We know now that she shouldn’t have done that. She should have called 9-1-1 and let the experts handle it.”
At the hospital, Ken had six more heart attacks while being treated in the emergency room.
“I was basically dead. I remember having an out of body experience where I was looking down at myself. I just kept telling myself to keep breathing,” Ken said. “I remember my wife telling me that I better not die on her. I couldn’t respond, but I remember hearing her voice.”
Ken had a stent placed, but the experience left him unable to fully walk for three months. He was kept in bed for 10 days with sand bags on his legs. At six months into his recovery, he was just starting to feel like himself. “I had one of the first stents ever placed in the state at that time. My doctor told me that there was a learning curve at that time. Stent procedures are a lot better now,” he said.
Fast forward to 2016 and Ken, now 70, has moved to coastal Sussex County with his wife and son. He sold his often stress-inducing businesses and continues to work part-time in real estate.
“Much of my stress of those old days is gone, but I could tell I wasn’t as healthy as I should be. I had gained back the weight and wasn’t as active as I knew I should be,” Ken said.
It was around that time that Ken read about the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program at Beebe Healthcare. Dr. Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease is the first program scientifically proven to “undo” (reverse) heart disease by optimizing four important areas of your life- what you eat, how much activity you have, how much love and support you have and how you respond to stress. Beebe Healthcare is the only organization in the state to offer the Ornish program.
“I figured I would call and see if I qualified,” Ken said. “The program administrators really worked with me to get most of the costs covered by my insurance. The next thing I knew, I was embarking on the 9-week program.”
Ken joined a group of others (a cohort) who had also experienced a heart attack or had a heart event. The cohort met twice a week for four hours at the Ornish and Cardiac Rehab department at the Beebe Health Campus on Route 24 near Rehoboth Beach. The sessions consisted of meeting with specialists in exercise, nutrition, group support and stress management – the four pillars of Dr. Ornish’s program. They also watched Chef Miguel Cuevas, Beebe’s Ornish chef, create a healthy meal.
“I can’t say it was easy, because, especially at first, it was a struggle to get my brain around this new way of thinking, eating, and living,” Ken said. “It was so eye-opening to learn about how our bodies work – from how stress affects our health to how we can change our food choices and make exercise a priority. I had never experienced yoga before, and honestly, I am still not sure about yoga, but it is such a warm and welcoming group, that I definitely tried things outside of my comfort zone.”
As the primary cook for his family, which includes his wife, Carol, and son, Matthew, Ken was surprised how supportive they were. “They eat whatever I cook, and as I tried new recipes, they were eager to learn about the items in the recipe and they gave everything a shot,” he said. “We focused on a plant-based diet, so we did not eat anything that flew, swam, or walked.”
Ken completed the program in 2016, but has kept many of the lifestyle changes going. “The biggest change for me was making exercise a priority. It really is the first thing I think about every day,” he said. “Any chance I get to add steps or lift something, I take it. I always take the stairs, I park far away from stores, I walk the dog all the time – exercise is my daily priority now.”
Ken lost 40 pounds and has kept most of it off as he is now in the maintenance phase of the program. He watches his fat and sugar intake, which were very important parts of the program, and he has been able to reduce two of his medications. To top it all off, Ken is no longer considered pre-diabetic.
“Leaving the program at graduation is a little nerve-wracking because you know that now it is all up to you to keep going,” Ken said. “I tell people that now that I know what I should be doing. I stick with it. There are always going to be times when you stray from the path and that’s OK as long as you are doing what you need to do to stay healthy.”
Caption: Ken returned to the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine and Cardiac Rehab offices recently to update the team on his success and thank them for his healthier lifestyle.