Transforming Health with the ‘Ekahi Ornish Reversal Program
Three or more daily insulin injections to zero, ten prescription medications to three, 35 pounds lighter – Ross Kutsunai’s nine-week health transformation, which he has maintained for over a year, seems almost unbelievable. But remarkably, his story is common for those who attend the ‘Ekahi Ornish Reversal Program in Honolulu.
It was early 2017, and Ross, who had a heart attack in October 2006, was also trying to control his type two diabetes. Overweight, juggling prescriptions, and hoping to watch his daughter graduate from Santa Clara University in the spring of that year, Ross was open to a lifestyle change.
When Ross’ wife, Jan, mentioned the ‘Ekahi Ornish Reversal Program had been scientifically proven to prevent and reverse the signs of heart disease, Ross’ ears pricked up. Despite working for over twelve years in the pharmaceutical industry, he asked his endocrinologist, Dr. Lisa Wong, about this holistic health program.
“The goal was to change my lifestyle,” says Ross. “I had a grab-and-go life on the road for over 30 years, and if my life continued in that way, I would not be around to enjoy the rewards from all the hard work.”
“Dr. Wong mentioned an example of another patient who was able to discontinue their use of insulin after entering the program; that was incentive enough to check it out,” he recalls.
Together, Ross and Jan qualified for the program, and their health insurance, HMSA, even covered it, reducing the out-of-pocket cost from an estimated $9,000 to around $500 (co-payments and parking). For nine weeks, Jan and Ross, along with their cohort of nine other people, attended eighteen four-hour sessions (two sessions per week).
PHOTO: Ekahi Ornish
Each session devoted one hour to each of the Ornish Program’s four elements: exercise, stress management, group support, and nutrition. Taught by a team of highly-qualified specialists, Ross and Jan learned to exercise in natural ways that build strength and stamina, to relax through specialized techniques, and to recognize and defuse stress.
At group support sessions, they empathized with others’ health journeys. “The group support is the most fun, and it is valuable to learn from each other's challenges and victories,” says Ross, who, over a year after completing the program, continues to meet monthly with cohort members.
And through the ‘Ekahi Ornish Reversal Program, Ross and Jan learned about a plant-based diet – becoming picky eaters.
“The Ornish lifestyle is based on the low-fat concept,” explains Ross. “A vegan diet allows your body to properly process nutrients, including starchy carbohydrate foods which are often troublesome for the diabetic patient. Animal fat is particularly problematic, and once that was eliminated from our lifestyle, the results were optimized, immediate, and significant.”
Jan, who eliminated over half her medications after being in the program, was Ross’ “not-so-secret weapon” in their transformation. “I know that the biggest impact for my success in the ‘Ekahi Ornish Reversal Program was that my wife and I were able to experience the program together. Our household was transformed overnight,” Ross says.
Together, they read labels and researched recipes, finding Rocket Scientist as a great meat substitute and endless uses for riced cauliflower and mushrooms. The couple still shops at mainstream O‘ahu grocery stores and has been pleasantly surprised at the available vegan dishes around the island.
The following are Ross and Jan’s go-to vegan dishes:
(1) Mung Bean Noodles with Garlic Tofu at Chao Phya Thai, Kaneohe
A delicious stir fry with wood-ear mushroom, fresh veggies, basil, cashew nuts, and topped with savory garlic tofu.
Falafal, harissa hummus, firecracker sauce, pickled carrot, daikon, cucumber, and cilantro sandwiched between La Tour’s freshly-baked bread.
PHOTO: Kyle Roche
(3) Mushroom Veggie Soup Base at Aunty’s Ramen, Honolulu
Select from the endless vegetable options at Aunty’s Ramen to create a customized soup with the delicious, vegan-friendly mushroom base.
(4) Kaimana Power Bentos at Kaimana Farm Café, Honolulu
(5) Morning Star Black Bean Burgers at Costco
For a quick bite at home, these burgers made with corn and chipotle peppers offer 17 grams of protein and 73 percent less fat than ground beef.
With transformed health, Ross is enjoying a new quality of life. He is now a senior project developer at Alternate Energy, Inc. and promotes healthy lifestyles as a volunteer at the new urgent care clinic in Kalihi, Ho'ola Health + Urgent Care. He looks forward to travelling to his favorite place in the world, New Zealand, and improving his golf game.
“I knew I was ready to make a change in my lifestyle, and I went for it – 100 percent,” concludes Ross. “It is amazing how prioritizing yourself can lead to life changes that are critical to your health. And there is a world of support and resources to help us all. ‘Ekahi Ornish Reversal Program has changed our lives as promised!”