Intensive Cardiac Rehab: The New Stent

Cardiac rehabilitation saves lives. Twenty to thirty percent reductions in death rates from all causes have been documented in patients having significant coronary heart disease (blockages). Patients involved in these important studies had either stents or open-heart surgery. Arkansas doctors sent patients in droves to cardiac rehab. And patients flocked to cardiac rehab centers in Arkansas, right? End of story. Well, no…far from it.

This may shock you, but our great state, with coronary artery disease rates perhaps only higher in Mississippi and West Virginia (in a good year), has had among the poorest “flocking” rates to rehab in the country. The good news is that times are a-changing in Central Arkansas. There are now multiple options for Saline County citizens, including very good Traditional Cardiac Rehab programs at Baptist Health and CHI St. Vincent’s. These programs improve a patient’s ability to exercise, teach patients about diet, and even reduce all cause mortality/death rates.

In 2013, CMS (the Medicare gods) approved two new programs – the Ornish Reversal Program and the Pritikin Program. These programs are called Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation or ICR. ICR is similar to Traditional Cardiac Rehab, except it’s…intense! Not harder, but much more involved, and geared to change lives and lifestyles. So why are insurance companies and even Medicare lining up to cover the more expensive and involved Intensive Cardiac Rehab programs? Simple – it will quickly save them thousands of dollars per patient.

The Ornish Reversal Program came to Arkansas right here in Saline County in August 2016. It is called “reversal” because, unlike traditional rehab, exercise alone, diet alone, or even the Pritikin Program, the Ornish Program has been proven to reverse heart disease!  But it doesn’t stop there.

Dr. Ornish was not satisfied with decreasing only all cause mortality rates and reversing heart disease.  Patients were feeling better – in fact, far better than simple reversal of a blockage in the heart could explain.

After numerous studies, Dr. Ornish actually changed the name of the program from The Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease to the broader “The Ornish Reversal Program”. Why? His studies showed blockage reversal as well as other “effects” of the program:

1.  Diabetes reversal

2.  Improved blood pressure control

3.  Prostate cancer “reversal” (multiple PET scans showed diminishing tumors)

4.  Significant weight loss (a bonus…not our focus!)

5.  Brain growth (REALLY??? This is not a metaphor for becoming a better person! Improved blood flow makes the brain bigger and better)

6.  Anti-aging (The part of our DNA that controls longevity – the Telomere – gets bigger and better resembles those in the longer-lived)

I know; it sounds too good to be true. But all these effects have been proved in fairly straightforward studies conducted by Dr. Ornish and his team. We should also mention that the Ornish Program has been shown to eliminate angina (chest pain) after about three weeks, in patients who can’t have or refuse bypass or stenting. There is also a “Viagra” effect (better than Viagra in fact, but that might be bragging). Again, we believe (at least at Saline Heart Group) that these effects all happen because of greatly improved blood flow everywhere.

Lifestyle change is the new stent and the new heart bypass. It is no accident that the Heart Hospital is now focusing on ICR, Bariatric Surgery, and prevention; no accident that Baptist Health is aggressively marketing dietician services, Traditional Cardiac Rehab, and weight loss programs. Study after study show dramatic improvement in patients with just a little change in lifestyle. These are exciting times in cardiology.

So, why does the Ornish Reversal Program seem to be so powerful? Hard work from both the patient and the staff. The Ornish Reversal Program in Benton has staff to participant ratios that are often nearly 1:1. Staff positions include the following:

1.  Dietitian

2.  Exercise physiologist (of which there are three)

3.  Program RN

4.  Program APRN (nurse practitioner)

5.  Group Support counselor (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)

6.  Stress reduction counselor (Licensed Yoga Therapist)

7.  Local chef (Fresh meals are part of the program)

8.  Program Administrator and Administrative Assistant

9.  Medical Director

Per Dr. Ornish decree, patients are showered with “love and support,” Arkansas style of course. Patients from all over our state have participated, but we are particularly excited about the response from Saline County. Patients are leaving happier, stronger, and more able. The Ornish Program continues to promote change by having Ornish Alumni meetings. Many patients are now exercising and meeting with fellow group members months after finishing, just like Dr. Ornish said they would!

Of course, at Saline Heart Group, we would like to see even more patients participate in our program, but we encourage patients to choose any cardiac rehab program in Central Arkansas. They have all been proven to save lives. They are the new bypass and the new stent. Times are a-changing.