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The Multi-Disciplinary Program that Changed Brett Watterson’s Life

brett watterson 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.”

breet wattersonAnd 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.”

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