Jim Beam column: Wife’s phone call was lifesaver

Published 7:28 am Saturday, October 7, 2023

Thanks to Jo Ann, my late wife, and my Houston cardiologist, I made it to age 90 today. Dr. K. Lance Gould, the cardiologist, has a diet, exercise and medication program that is almost guaranteed to prevent or reverse heart disease.

In my case, I’m convinced Gould’s program reversed my heart disease. Jo Ann had a minor heart attack in 1985 and was determined to try not to have another one, and she also wanted to avoid bypass surgery.

I’m not sure where Jo Ann heard of Dr. Dean Michael Ornish, an American physician and researcher in California. He is also the president and founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California.

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“Undo heart disease wherever life takes you,” says the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine website. It adds that the Ornish program “is the only scientifically proven program to reverse heart disease without medication or surgery.”

Jo Ann wasn’t planning to move to California, but she called Ornish and asked if he could recommend someone in our area who had a similar program. That is how she and I found Dr. Gould, whom I believe worked with Ornish.

Gould holds the Distinguished University Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine at the Houston University of Texas Health Science Center (UT Health). He leads the world on imaging coronary blood flow using technology he pioneered called positron emission tomography (PET) as the basis for predicting high future risk of heart attack or death in individuals.

Currently, he is the medical and executive director of the Weatherhead PET Imaging Center for Preventing and Reversing Arteriosclerosis (the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls).

After going with Jo Ann on her visits to see Dr. Gould for about five years, one day he said I might be a good candidate for a PET scan of my coronary arteries.

I took him up on his suggestion and the Sept. 15, 1995, results were scary. Gould said I appeared to be headed for a major heart attack. I still have the color picture of that first PET scan.

After beginning Gould’s program, another PET scan in 1999 showed major improvement. I could see the smile on Gould’s face as he viewed the results on his computer. Things looked even better after a 2007 PET scan.

Jo Ann and I kept seeing Gould through the years and did our best to follow his program. On one occasion, he said he thought Jo Ann and I would make his 90 Club. When I asked what it was, he said it was reaching the age of 90.

While standing in line one day to check out after our visit, I turned around and saw attorney Jim Ortego standing behind us in line. Ortego had lost a lot of weight and I asked him who his doctor was.

“Dr. Gould,” he said, adding, “he saved my life.”

I hadn’t thought about that and told Ortego, “He saved my life, too.”

Dr. Gould is a living example of the kind of health care he gives his patients. He has been tall and thin since I first met him. And he is a kind and caring gentleman.

I remember Gould telling Jo Ann and me during an early visit if we got hungry during the day, to eat some fat-free cheese. And he reached into his pocket and showed us what he was talking about.

Other health issues, nothing to do with the heart, became major problems for Jo Ann and she died May 31, 2020.

I have continued to engage in weight exercises at the Ward 3 Recreation Center on Power Center Parkway. Jamie Fierro, my daughter, and I do some brisk walking for 30 minutes five days a week.

Dr. Gould has written a book titled, “Heal Your Heart: How You Can Prevent or Reverse Heart Disease.” His program provides practical, do-it-yourself steps.

The well-known Dr. James H. “Red” Duke of Houston said of the book, “Heart and vascular disease continue to be major killers, but such does not have to be the case. ‘Heal Your Heart’ tells how to prevent this unnecessary tragedy. Get a copy, read it, and make it a part of your health life. Then give a copy to your 10 best friends.”

To celebrate reaching 90, Jamie found and gave me a T-shirt that says, “I make 90 look good.” I also thank God every night for his many blessings and my good health.

I wish the same for each of you.