12 Weeks That Changed Her Life

Sister Donna Hawk has devoted most of her life to caring for others, ministering to the needs of people who were homeless and providing comfort to patients and their families in an acute-care hospital.

“I was so involved with taking care of others, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t been taking very good care of myself,” she says. As she began thinking of retirement, she assessed her health and decided it was time to take action.

Sister Donna walked with a cane because of her weight and weakness in her legs caused by multiple sclerosis. A family history of cardiac problems, along with her own cardiac episodes, led her to enroll in Cleveland Clinic’s Cardiac Lifestyle Improvement Program (CLIP).

A Comprehensive Program

CLIP is an intensive lifestyle intervention aimed at heart health. After screening and approval following consultation with their primary care physicians or cardiologists, participants begin an intensive three-month course. Working with physicians, fitness specialists, behavioral health specialists, yoga therapists, registered dietitians and nurse case managers, participants learn about healthy changes that can greatly improve their lives.

“It’s been a lot of lifestyle changes,” Sister Donna says. “The nutritional changes were a stretch for me and if anyone had told me a year ago I’d be eating a plant-based diet, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’ve always eaten veggies, fruits and beans, but I also enjoyed meat, dairy and peanut butter.”

She says the program taught her to take her own health and stress-reduction needs into account. “I didn’t learn brand-new things; the program just put them all together. I knew about exercise and nutrition, but the mindfulness made a difference in reducing my stress levels.”

Committed to Change

Even though the 12-week program ended in April, Sister Donna continues to exercise six days a week by walking, using a treadmill, pedaling a recumbent bicycle and using weights. She manages stress through daily meditation, visualization and mindful breathing. Since February, she’s lost 40 pounds and no longer uses a cane when she walks. She’s also volunteering at Fairview Hospital as a chaplain and doing other activities to help others.

“It sounds selfish, but I realized it was time to take care of myself,” Sister Donna says. “Now, I’m handling life with more vigor and vitality, and I’m willing and able to do more things.”


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