For reasons that have a lot to do with shows like "ER," most people's idea of a medical success story involves a medical crisis, an emergency department and someone standing over a patient holding defibrillator paddles as a nearby monitor traces out the rhythm of a restarted heartbeat.

The truth is, however, that the best success stories, the ones in which people become healthier and enjoy a better quality of life, are a lot less dramatic. They involve doctors who are committed to their patients and patients who are willing to make real changes in their lives.

They look a lot like what happened earlier this year when Sara and Robert Watts and their daughter Ella walked into Pediatrician Steve Feder's office in the Family Care Center in Boothbay Harbor for Ella's yearly well-child visit.

Over the winter, Ella, who is 6 years old, had done what a lot of kids her age do in Maine at that time of year. She became pretty inactive and was eating a diet that was not very healthy.While bears can get away with that, people may develop habits that can carry on through the rest of their lives. During the course of the visit, Dr. Feder talked about the importance of making healthy decisions concerning eating and exercise.

Sara said one of the things that stood out to her was how Dr. Feder took the time to talk directly to Ella, and how he didn't talk down to anyone.

"It was a conversation, not a lecture," said Sara. "It was a conversation between me, my husband, Ella and Dr. Feder."

But it wasn't the kind of conversation that happens in a vacuum. Robert and Sara listened because they know and respect Dr. Feder.

Ella has been coming to Dr. Feder since shortly after she was born, and he has always been there for them. Sara and Robert also know Dr. Feder as someone who cares for his community, someone who coached football before his own daughter was born and volunteers at schools.

The message also struck home because Sara and Robert were both struggling with their health habits, as well. Juggling 40-plus hours of work each week with the hectic schedules of young parents, there was little time to exercise and not a lot of time to plan healthy meals.

"With working and having children, the time just got sucked away," said Sara.

They brought home some 5-2-1-0 Let's Go brochures from Dr. Feder's office and began making changes.

The 5-2-1-0 Program is a childhood wellness program that is active in every county in Maine. It focuses on simple guidelines: five servings or more of fruits and vegetables each day, two hours or less of recreational screen time, one hour or more of physical activity and no sugary drinks.

"It is easy to remember," said Sara. "It helps people get strong," said Ella.
Sara began making time to exercise after work with friends and also with Ella. Robert took part in a healthy walking program at work.

At first, the results were not encouraging. Sara, a field hockey athlete in high school, was amazed at how difficult it was to run for just 30 seconds.

Robert knew he was no longer the lean athlete of his younger years, but thought he was still in decent shape. When he began exercising, however, he soon discovered that he was not in the shape he thought he was.

The family also began trying to incorporate more vegetables into their meals and fewer starches. Frozen yogurt replaced ice cream for dessert and they kept a bowl of fruit out for snacks and cut down on the after-school unhealthy snacks like cookies.

It took a real effort to cut carrot sticks and cucumbers instead of reaching for a bag of chips, but over time those habits became second nature.

It didn't take long before Robert and Sara saw their new emphasis on physical activity pay off. In June they participated in their first 5K road race as a family, with Ella taking part in the kids run. Mom has also noticed a significant change in Ella well beyond just slimming down.

"She is more confident in her physical abilities," said Sara. Ella did the monkey bars at the playground by herself for the first time this summer. She is swimming at a level well over her age, and she didn't complain this year when she went on long hikes at camp.

Robert cut his weight and is now running up to seven miles a day and Sara is running for 30 minutes at a time. Running has become a great way to unload the daily stress of life and it offers a chance to take some time for herself or something the family can do together, said Sara.

And there have also been a few unexpected benefits.

The other day, Sara heard younger sister Kayla talking to herself about going for a run. Then she put on her sneakers and starting running around the house, just like her big sister. Just like her mom and dad.

The family has come a long way in less than a year, but Sara said they are still a work in progress. The only advice she would offer anyone else in the same situation is just to start with small steps.

"Make small changes and the small changes turn to big changes," said Sara. "Focus on the healthy," said Ella.

Mark Fourre, MD, is an emergency physician and Chief Medical Officer of Lincoln County Healthcare, the parent company of Miles Memorial Hospital and St. Andrews Hospital. He also serves on Lincoln County Healthcare's Board of Trustees. Prior to joining Lincoln County Healthcare, Dr. Fourre was attending faculty at Maine Medical Center, where he developed the Emergency Medicine Residency Program and served as Residency Director.