Brett Watterson says it was “happenstance” that he was introduced
to Torrance Memorial’s CHANGE program. The 62-year-old just happened
to be walking near his Malaga Cove home in Palos Verdes when he stumbled
upon a class led by trainer Ken Agee.
“At the time, I was 50 pounds overweight, depressed, and I knew I
needed a change—quite literally and figuratively—in my life,”
says Watterson. He was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“The wheels had fallen off,” he says.
So Watterson started asking questions, and by January 2012, he was enrolled
in the life-altering program. “It was a rescue line that I grabbed
and graciously was pulled in by the staff—Lisa [Cavallaro], Debra
[Nessel], Danielle [Vindez], Ken [Agee],” he says. “Those
people are the real heroes.”
Torrance Memorial began hosting the CHANGE program in February 2009, thanks
to the vision of members of the Lundquist Cardiovascular team. As a trained
clinical and health psychologist, a lot of Program Director Lisa Cavallaro,
PsyD’s patient referrals were in chronic disease states and had
cardiovascular health issues, hypertension, diabetes or just a weight
problem. “There are many lifestyle and behavioral factors associated
with the risk factors,” says Cavallaro. She saw that, as a complement
to medicines and treatments, patients needed to change their ways of thinking.
The CHANGE (Cardiovascular Health Achieved through Nutrition Guidance and
Exercise) Program is a 12-week, twice weekly, multi-disciplinary program
that incorporates behavior and exercise modifications. The Lundquist Cardiovascular
Institute was instrumental in providing the necessary funding to launch
CHANGE and continues to generously support and subsidize the program.
The first hour is didactic, and the participants meet with a group. The
group consists of 12 members on average and can go up to 20 people. There
is either a Monday/Wednesday evening schedule or a Tuesday/Thursday morning schedule.
Watterson calls the group work not only helpful but essential. He likens
it to being on an alpine path—when you want to give up, you realize
you’re not alone. You have a group to guide you.
The second hour of the class is physical exercise with a personal trainer.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Cavallaro.
“We do a baseline fitness test when a participant comes in, and
then the trainers tailor the exercises for each person.”
And tackling the physical training for the first time? Surprisingly, Watterson
did not find it daunting at all. “They [personal trainers] are supportive
and empathetic and know exactly what type of physical increases to give
you at the right time.”
Participants’ ages run the gamut from those in their 20s or 30s to
some almost 90 years old. Primary physicians have referred many to the
program, but anyone can self-refer. Wrapping up its third year, the program
has graduated about 145 people, many of whom are now in the continuation
program to support them staying on track.
“Listen, we are creatures of habit. It can be very difficult to change.
No one can be expected to navigate it alone,” says Cavallaro. “So
we provide the education, training and coaching in all disciplines. That’s
a good foundation for changing habits.”
Watterson says meeting the staff and getting into the CHANGE program was
serendipity. Since entering the program, he’s gone from 35% body
fat down to 25%, lost 35 pounds and has “a new lease on life.”
Now in the continuation program, Watterson enjoys meeting with; the mix
of participants in various physical states. His trainers perform a physical
training session every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning and Tuesday
and Thursday evenings. He calls it the “best bang for his buck”
when it comes to getting a workout in the South Bay.
And even now, more than a year later, there are times Watterson doesn’t
want to go, or he falls off the diet and exercise bandwagon. “But
the beauty of CHANGE is the mutually supportive participants and leaders—they
hold the horse while you get back in the saddle.”
Perhaps the biggest impact the program has had on Watterson is its effects
on his Parkinson’s. His trainer, Ken Agee, gave him exercises that
have reversed some of the symptoms of the disease. He works with Agee
on muscle rigidity, inflexibility, flow of movement, Bradykinesia and
balance (postural instability).
“Most important, CHANGE has resulted in a new outlook of hope,”
Watterson says. He encourages others who need a “change” to
try the program. He quotes Ernest Hemingway: “A man alone ain’t
got no bloody … chance.”