Cookin’ up a Cure

Physician assistant combines passion for food to create online Heart Health Academy program

By Mary Beth Roach

Andrea Atcheson has a degree as a physician assistant, and she loves to cook, so she has mixed the two to come up with the recipe for her own Heart Health Academy website —

It’s an online program she created about 10 months ago that offers clients one-on-one coaching sessions aimed at addressing chronic medical concerns with diet and lifestyle changes.

Working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse in the anti-coagulation unit, the Baldwinsville native graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in physician assistant. She worked at the then Genesee Hospital in Rochester before moving to San Diego, where she worked in the cardiology field. It was there that she was able to explore her passion for cooking by attending and graduating from culinary school.

“I love food, love to make it, love to eat it,” she said.

Although she was still working for a cardiologist in San Diego, she found time to start a small catering business on the side called “Andrea At Your Table,” and taught cooking classes in the community and at people’s homes. She even did a guest spot on The Food Network’s “Grill It! With Bobby Flay.”

It was in San Diego, too, that she would meet her future husband, Todd. The two married and had a son, Nicholas. Wishing to be closer to family in Baldwinsville, the Atchensons moved back to Central New York. Andrea is the mother of Nicholas, 6, and Ethan, 4.

Throughout her medical career, she has often found there’s not enough time during patients’ visits to thoroughly review their overall medical state and develop plans to help them.

“I want to do more,” she said.

She said with her HeartHealthAcademy, she can do more. Her goal is to teach clients with health conditions to develop healthy eating habits, help them manage medications, and offer a support system for them. She’s quick to point out that she is not a nutritionist, but with her culinary interest, she said, she can help point out healthy eating options.

As she notes on her website – — good nutrition and how it affects the body’s ability to function is critical.

“I continue to learn how something as simple as food can improve, if not rid, many chronic diseases,” according to her website.

The academy offers three different programs — what the website refers to as “options.”

The first session is what she calls a “medical blueprint” or “organizing your health,” in which she and her client will talk about his or her medical conditions and medications.  According to her website, Atcheson will devise specific ways to apply what the client has learned so the client scan progress to accomplish his or her goals.

“Option 2” is called “You Are What You Eat.”  The steps in this program, which focuses on heart-healthy diets, include identifying what clients eat and why (for example, are they emotional eaters?); creating a food plan; making over the clients’ cupboard or pantry; and incorporating all these changes into the clients’ lives.

Heart Healthy Academy Signature Coaching “Option 3” explores clients’ medical issues, reviews medications and focuses on lifestyle changes.  Atcheson will develop a food and fitness plan and then check in with clients via phone or Skype to provide support and address specific issues that might arise as her clients continue their progress.

“That’s the ultimate goal for me – to see transformation, even if it’s a tiny bit.  I just wanted to see improvement with whatever we’re working on.”