After almost twelve years of retirement, former OB-GYN Sherwin Lewis, MD, found himself back at El Camino Hospital, but this time it was for heart surgery.
His surgery, which was performed by Dr. Conrad Vial, was to repair Dr. Lewis’ mitral valve, which was no longer functioning correctly. Following the mitral valve surgery, it was recommended that Dr. Lewis enroll in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program offered at the hospital’s Cardiac & Pulmonary Wellness Center. After a heart attack or other cardiac event, regaining strength and fitness is an ongoing process that takes time, persistence and medical supervision. The 12-week Cardiac Rehabilitation Program combines exercise, education and support to help patients regain an optimum level of cardiac fitness safely and gradually.
“I participated in the rehab program many years before following a previous cardiac event” said Dr. Lewis. “A lot of what was highlighted then included daily exercise and stress reduction. It was all very good information to know and this time, with the additional focus on nutrition, has been very impactful.”
The nutrition aspect of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program is headed up by Registered Dietitian Sheri Berger. Sheri developed the “Food as Medicine” nutrition program, which is used at the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, under the guidance of Dr. Catherine Collings a cardiovascular disease and lifestyle medicine specialist. It is a series of six nutrition modules that encourages patients to follow a plant-based diet. Each class learns about the benefits of different food groups and can also participate in cooking demos with the goal of introducing patients to new, healthier foods and easy, plant-based recipes.
“We want our patients to walk away from the Food as Medicine program with new ideas and resources that they can use at home for a lasting lifestyle change,” says Berger. “By showing patients which foods to focus on for better heart health, rather than what is commonly done and telling them what they can’t eat, I believe we are making a big difference in how our patients view “healthy” food and incorporate it into their diets.”
The nutritional modules Sheri presented during the weekly heart-healthy lectures encouraged Dr. Lewis to continue researching the subject.
“Sheri offered some personalized changes that really got me interested in the topic and thinking more about it,” says Dr. Lewis. “She introduced me to a lot of information I was not previously aware of and inspired me to do extra reading on the subject.”
Based on what he was learning from Sheri’s nutrition sessions and his own reading, Dr. Lewis began to make some major changes to his own diet.
“You know, I am a doctor, but there was so much I did not know. Looking back, there was practically no instruction on nutrition in medical school at the time I went through it,” said Dr. Lewis. “This emphasis on nutrition and how it can affect your health in the rehab program has completely changed my life.”
Dr. Lewis found the information and studies on nutrition and its effect on health so compelling that he and his wife are now almost completely vegan. He says they made this decision after reading and learning about the plethora of scientific evidence justifying the long-term health benefits of a plant-based diet.
“Once we went to an almost entirely plant-based diet I started to see pretty immediate effects on my health. I felt better in general and I was losing weight.”
“Overall, what I’ve taken away from the cardiac rehab program is that a healthy life is like a stool supported by three legs – exercise, nutrition and stress reduction,” Dr. Lewis continues. “Realizing this, and then affecting changes, has completely changed my life.”