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Some of my friends have said to me, 'I'd rather die than do what you're doing.'

September 08, 1987|PERRY C. RIDDLE

When Dr. David Cohen was in his 40s he weighed 215 pounds and smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. He gave up smoking, but it took a heart attack to change his eating and exercise habits. Cohen, 74, a semi-retired ophthalmologist, and his wife Rose live in Encino.

Everything was fine until ten years ago. I had a myocardial infarction, or heart attack. I was in intensive care for three or four days. They discharged me and told me to go home and take it easy. They weren't prevention minded then.

I came home and continued eating the way I usually ate, had my pint of ice cream every night, ate meat and all of the things I now know I shouldn't have been eating. Two years later I had two heart attacks. My right coronary artery was completely blocked and my left descending artery was narrowed about 75% in two places.

I looked into the mirror and I was reminded of a movie I'd seen as a youngster, Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar." In the last scene, where he was executed gangland fashion, he looked up and said, "Holy Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico Bandello?" I looked into the mirror and the tears were large as silver dollars and I said, "God almighty, is this the end of David Cohen? There are so many more things to do."

I made a decision to do something. I spoke to my cardiologist and I said, "Look, I'm going on the Pritikin program. I want you to monitor my progress." He said he would. I went on the regression diet for the first three months where I was eating only 3 1/2 ounces of animal protein a week. The rest of the time I was eating complex carbohydrates, pastas and potatoes, grains, beans, legumes and so forth. I was keeping away from the number one enemy, which is cholesterol, and of course fats, sugar and salt.

When I started, I weighed 194 pounds and my cholesterol was over 200. Within a few months I was down to 163 pounds. My cholesterol is now 120. I'm on the treadmill for an hour, four or five days a week. I go 3.6 miles an hour and an elevation of two or three degrees. I have a treadmill stress test every year. Each succeeding year it is better than the year before. Knock wood, I didn't have to have bypass surgery.

When I started this I was the butt of all the jokes. "Look at this guy, he's out walking in the morning, he eats funny." But now maybe half of my contemporaries in the apartment complex are walking and taking care of themselves.

When you think of a diet you think of depriving yourself. I don't deprive myself of a thing. Sure, I don't eat ice cream or hamburgers or peanut butter, but that doesn't bother me. People say to me all the time, "Oh, come on, a prime rib is not going to hurt you. You're carrying this too far." I kiddingly say, "Not even at gunpoint." I have no desire to eat the prime rib.

Some of my friends have said to me, "I'd rather die than do what you're doing." You know what happens? They die, unfortunately. You can change a person's religion or politics but the toughest thing to do is change a person's eating habits. There you are violating what they consider holy ground.

We go out often with our friends. I can't always go to a restaurant of my choosing, but I can make the most of it. They will order all the goodies, prime rib, hamburgers and so forth. I'll call the waitress over and ask her if they have a three and a half ounce can of salmon. And would they please boil some potatoes for me and a dry salad. We bring our own no-fat dressing. I'll have fruit for dessert and I'll have a meal. Then the same group will go to someone's home to play cards. About nine o'clock, they're all sleepy and I'm not. That tells me something.

God has blessed me but I have also made a major effort to help myself. One of my medical friends said to me, "Dave, how can you do it? It's so strict." I said, "It's strict to have open-heart surgery."

I've always been the kind of a person who did what had to be done. If I want to stay healthy, I have to do certain things, and I'm going to do it.

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