Total Arteriosclerosis Management (TAM) Program Relaunched by Marin General Hospital

Groundbreaking program is designed to prevent, reverse cardiovascular disease

GREENBRAE, CA — The TAM (Total Arteriosclerosis Management) Program, a groundbreaking integrated lifestyle program designed to prevent and/or reverse the process of cardiovascular disease, has reopened under the auspices of Marin General Hospital and the Marin General Hospital Foundation.  First developed by Cardiovascular Associates of Marin in 1993, the program supports both medical recovery from heart disease and the prevention of heart disease in high risk individuals by educating, empowering and motivating them to adopt heart-healthy lifestyles.

Since its original opening, TAM has held 75 intensive, six to eight-week sessions serving over 800 patients. It operated independently with financial support from nonprofit Heart Health Institute until 2010 when it was purchased by that organization with the goal of expanding its reach and accessibility. Marin General Hospital subsequently agreed to take over the program with fundraising support from the Marin General Hospital Foundation.  TAM has since been on a two-year hiatus during its reorganization and preparations for its new home.

“Cardiovascular disease is chronic and progressive,” says Dr. Wexman, now the medical director of the program, which is part of the hospital’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. “Each individual’s lifestyle has a significant effect on the rate of progression, however, and we know that even people with major genetic risk factors can delay or even reverse the progression of the disease with the proper combination of lifestyle modifications and when warranted, medical intervention. Tam works with individuals to create and implement a lifestyle plan unique to them, which they can learn to adopt through classes, supportive counseling and ongoing coaching from a multidisciplinary, professional team.

Maureen Roddy, a Registered Nurse who recently joined Marin General Hospitalfrom Tufts Medical Center as director of the TAM program, is passionate about the need for the program.  “We know that heart disease kills 900,000 people in the US annually—more than all cancers combined,” she says. “Most people would be willing to do anything to beat cancer—but often don’t realize that they have more ability to stop and even reverse heart disease than cancer.  Heart disease is approximately 18% hereditary, with nearly all the rest deriving from lifestyle. Tam can help change lifelong bad habits by providing all the elements to support that change.”

Dr. Wexman says that each eight-week session requires a significant commitment of time and money, with patients attending two four-hour classes during the week, as well as sessions on Friday night, Saturday and Sundays.  The cost is $3700 per participant.  “This is not something you come to because it is free,” Dr. Wexman says.  “It takes months to create new, healthy habits, and we have only limited room in each session, so we want people to make a commitment that will motivate them.  However, we will never turn anyone away who needs the program but cannot pay the full price.”

Tam participants work with a psychotherapist, cardio-physiologist, dietician and cardiologist, receiving individualized cardiac risk factor analysis, a fitness training plan and coaching, stress management training, psychological risk screening, nutritional counseling and computerized dietary analysis, all accompanied by an array of educational materials.

George Sarantakis, a Marin resident and retired apparel industry executive, was referred to TAM after years of trying to improve his heart health.  A heart scan recommended by his cardiologist had revealed significant plaque build-up, despite his having finally achieved good cholesterol levels.

“My doctor suggested I enroll in TAM,” says Mr. Sarantakis. “It was expensive and because I had not had a cardiac event, it wasn’t covered by insurance. But I thought, ‘How much is my life worth?’ and my wife and I agreed we could afford to do it.  It was absolutely life changing.”

“When they told me that nutrition, exercise and stress management were the keys to the program, I thought the only component where I could learn something new was stress management,” says Mr. Sarantakis.  “But when I sat down with the nutritionist I realized I didn’t know anything about nutrition.  And when I sat down with the exercise consultant, it was the same revelation.  I couldn’t believe how much I was learning.” He says his wife adopted the program’s recommendations, and benefited, too.

“I’m not ever going back to what I did before,” he says.  “I am blessed with a beautiful wife, and a wonderful life and I want to be around to live it for a long time. TAM gave me all the tools to make that happen. It was worth every penny.”

According to Dr. Wexman, there’s solid evidence that TAM significantly reduces mortality. “We analyzed large published studies and isolated groups that got the same medical care but didn’t have the TAM program,” he explains. ”The five-year mortality for TAM program participants was under 4%; we could not find a single published study where mortality was less than 9% and most averaged 12-15%. We believe that by adding the psychosocial and behavioral elements we are contributing to improved outcomes.”