“Living Wellness,” a newly released documentary about the Community Wellness Program at the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, shows the immense impact healthy eating and an active lifestyle can have on patients of The General.

Diana Coffa, MD, a doctor at the Family Health Center at The General, is thrilled to be able to refer her patients to a powerful resource like the Wellness Program that can help them achieve the lifestyle changes she often recommends. “We’re seeing a lot more diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, cancer – things that are much more complex in origin and have a lot to do about how you live your life.”

The Wellness Program makes a difference in these patients’ lives by giving them a place where they can learn practical healthy-eating strategies and take advantage of weekly exercise classes. The garden at The General is a central part of the program, and provides patients with fresh, local vegetables in addition to the recipes they can cook at home on a hotplate or other basic kitchen appliance.

The Foundation has been a close partner with the Community Wellness Program since its inception, providing Hearts Grants totaling $215,000 in the past four years. These funds have been a crucial part of the early success of the program.

Virginia Lopez has been a patient at The General for two years. “I had high cholesterol, my blood pressure was a little bit high, and my sugar was going up. My doctor told me I needed to change my eating habits and exercise.” The fresh food and exercise classes available at the hospital have helped Lopez manage her health. “I’ve been going to the Wellness Center for a year. I’ve lost 15 pounds already and my blood sugar has gone down. I tell everybody I’m not available from this time to this time because I am taking care of myself.”

Lopez is working hard to change her own habits, and wants to help improve the health of her family, too. “I’ve been trying to get my family to eat better. My granddaughter is coming with me to the

[exercise] classes.”

Raymond Martin regularly attends classes at the Wellness Center since being diagnosed with lung cancer. “They said ‘you have lung cancer in both of your lungs, and you have throat cancer’. At that time, I felt debilitated. I felt like ‘OK everything is crashing in, this is it’. I said ‘I’m going to learn everything about cancer short of becoming a doctor’. Part of doing that was getting involved in the CARE program.” One of the groups convened by the Wellness Program is called Cancer Awareness, Education and Resources (CARE), and is aimed at educating and building support for cancer patients at The General. “Having discussions with other patients who share a common situation – that support made it easier for me. It’s like meeting up with family. I’ve never missed a group meeting,” says Martin.

Dr. Coffa can see the passion in her patients who engage with the activities offered at the Wellness Center. “I’ve worked with people who are just struggling against odds you almost couldn’t imagine overcoming. And I have patients who find their way of working through it to this completely new way of living. They’re loving life again.”