From Meat & Potatoes to Simply Potatoes: one 70 yr old’s decision to go vegan.

Many of you know that I suffer from Meniere’s disease and follow a strict low-sodium diet. What you may not know is that heart disease also runs in my family. I’ve lost my paternal grandfather and two uncles to the disease, and very nearly my own father. Last month, my dad read a revolutionary book by Dr. Caldwell Esslestyn called Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. The book advocates the adoption of a plant-based diet, devoid of meat and animal products. Although my dad has spent the better part of his 70 years consuming not just meat and dairy but everything in between, the scientific study upon which the book is founded changed his world. Overnight, my Midwestern “meat & potatoes” dad became a vegan. If you’re shocked, you cannot imagine my mom’s reaction! I asked him to share his story and have reprinted it below. I’m not a vegan, but this could change my mind. Thank you, Daddy. I love you.

I am Christy’s father. I am a 70 year old man with advanced heart disease. Our family has a serious history of coronary disease. My father died of a heart attack at age 87. My oldest brother died of a heart attack at 75, my older brother died of a heart attack at 54, and my younger sister suffered a severe stroke in her mid-60s.

I had a heart attack and triple bypass heart operation in 2005. I am under the care of a cardiologist, who this year identified changes on my EKG and recommended a heart catheterization. The angiogram revealed that I had no blockages in my major heart arteries or in my bypass grafts. But it did show that the smaller arteries were blocked. The cardiologist performing the catheterization informed me that there was no mechanical intervention (bypass, balloon, angioplasty or stent) that he would recommend. He stated that left untreated these arteries served cells that constituted approximately 10% of my heart muscle, cells which would die. But I could live without that ten percent functioning. There was nothing else that he knew to be done. I accepted this news as the definitive professional truth. I accepted that there was nothing else that could be done about my heart disease, and I continued my life in the same manner I had lived prior to the test.

I am retired, having spent the bulk of my career in the health field as a hospital administrator (COO and CEO of three hospitals) and as a health care business consultant. One of the hospitals I was in charge of was an inner-city teaching hospital with a significant cardiology and cardio-thoracic surgical practice. My oldest brother came to that hospital for his open heart bypass surgery. The surgery and future interventions extended his life almost 30 years. My other brother was not as fortunate. He died suddenly before the severity of his condition was discovered. I know first hand from these deaths the lethal grip cardiovascular disease has held on our family. Throughout my professional years I knew well the limitations medicines and surgical interventions faced in combating this disease – by treating the symptoms they have the ability to extend life and improve its quality but no ability to cure the disease.

The breakthrough is a scientifically studied and proven, nutrition-based eating plan.  The pioneering work of William Castelli, director of the Framingham Heart Study, and the research of Dr. Dean Ornish was the foundation of the first 12-year continuous research study of the effects of nutrition in severely ill heart patients conducted and published by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr, MD.  After reading Dr. Esselstyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, I began to follow the eating plan he recommends.  The rules of his eating plan as presented are:

  • You may not eat anything with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, fish or eggs)
  • You cannot eat dairy products
  • You must not consume oil of any kind – not a drop
  • Generally, you cannot eat nuts or avocados

You can eat these wonderful foods:

  • All vegetables except avocados
  • All legumes – beans, peas and lentils of all varieties
  • All whole grains and products such as bread and pasta that are made from them – as long as they do not contain added fats
  • All fruits

Dr. Esselstyn’s twelve-year study documented that this plan works.  Patients who were fully compliant achieved total arrest of clinical progression and selective reversal of coronary artery disease.

I never before knew this was possible. Now I can do something truly significant to help myself. So I dramatically changed my eating behavior, literally overnight. For over seventy years I had been a product of my Midwestern heritage – a meat and potatoes eater – a real “meat-a-tarian.” Now I am a new vegan.

This is truly a dramatic dietary change, but so far it has been easier and more enjoyable than I imagined. I am able to stay on the plan because I am eating foods I like in restaurants I like and eating foods at home that I can purchase and prepare for myself. My wife does not have to change her eating behavior. I am encouraged by my family, especially by my daughter Christy, who is very knowledgeable about foods and especially enthusiastic in supporting my changes.

I choose life over death. I choose to eat to heal, not to kill. Lovingly, I recommend to you to do the same.

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13 Responses to From Meat & Potatoes to Simply Potatoes: one 70 yr old’s decision to go vegan.

  1. Elena says:

    thank you for sharing your experience and your new life change! My thoughts are with you and your new adventure on trying to change your life in a more healthy way. More folks in the world should be doing this!! We live in a overloaded, salted, greasy, high-meat world!! Its always a challenge to figure out what we can or should not eat. I appreciate all the information your daughter has shared as well you.

  2. Tammy says:

    This is wonderful Christy! Congrats to your father for making the difficult switch to a plant-based whole foods diet! There will definitely be a marked improvement in his overall health, as well as his heart related tests.

    Dr. Esselstyn is featured in the movie “Forks Over Knives” and Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s book “The China Study.” Both encourage adopting the plant-based diet to reverse heart disease. I just recently watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” Don’t let the title mislead you, the movie was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen in a long time.

    I am not vegan, but I have switched to a vegetarian diet. My family continues to eat meat and dairy, but they have reduced how much they consume. I also make sure I buy clean meats and dairy with no rbST.

  3. Having grown up in the Midwest with the same ‘meat and potato’ diet I can imagine how difficult it would be to make such a radical change (and so quickly)… but I’m very happy to hear it’s going so well! After reading about the amazing things Christy has done / continues to do with her low-sodium diet (and now this) I have to say you have one inspiring family! That’s wonderful!

  4. tracie says:

    This is inspiring. Please update us on your father’s progress. I recently discovered that my heart is full of disease, and after 3 stents in 6 mths., I am certainly paying attention. I just finished Dr. Dean Ornish’s book Spectrum, which is similar to what your Dad is saying; I was astounded to find that there was the potential for reversing heart disease and that I had some choices. My husband is on board too, and we have begun drastically changing our eating habits. I’ve discovered that veggies really can be delicious, fruit is as sweet as any dessert and meat is pretty expendable. I eat more food, but a lot less calories, sodium, fat, cholesterol and dangerous carbs and I am far more satisfied – actually I get less hungry now. Amazingly, my cardiologist is the one that “Prescribed” the book to me.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Yay Daddy!!! We are all so proud of you and hope you continue to heal yourself and get ready for your new granddaughter!! Love you!

  6. I’ve heard “nothing with a face” before, but “nothing with a mother” is terrifying! Although not terrifying enough to make me regret that buffalo chicken sausage I had an hour ago.

    Still, I’m so glad this is working for you and that you’re actually enjoying it! There are so many times I’ve wanted a kick in the pants like you got from this book to keep me away from my mortal enemy, sugar. Keep it up!

  7. your dad is an inspiration and i wish him much good health and longevity! it’s awful to see the personal tragedies he has weathered as a result of heart-related issues. ant’s dad died of a heart attack when we were in college–1995–and it was such a horror. he was 51 years old but had a high stress job as a lawyer and didn’t always make the best food and health choices. my own dad had to have a quadruple bypass in 2003 at 56. going vegan sounds so challenging–ant and i were red-meat free for over a year (me, 2 years for ant). i don’t think i could go vegan, tho. kuddos to your dad and to you for getting him to share his story.

  8. Christy says:

    I posted this on my (personal) Facebook page yesterday and rec’d many comments of support from friends and family. I am copying them here so my father can see them. Daddy – we are all so very proud of you!! Keep up the wonderful work! XO

    Theresa Cerceo: That is so cool!!! It is very brave of him to make such a life changing decision!
    Yesterday at 9:53am

    Marian Short: wow, congrats to your Dad. That’s really fantastic. On a related note a neighbor in his 70s used to have debilitating arthritis, until he changed to a raw food diet. he doesn;t use any RXs–for anything– has no aches/pains and runs three miles, three times a week. Astounding.
    Yesterday at 9:57am

    Deborah McCall: yeah!!! I gave my dad dean ornish’s book years ago… He recently had heart suegery ( he’s not a reader), though I’ll recommend this text here, maybe now hell be more open…
    Yesterday at 9:57am

    Marc Bryan Supsic: Great story, as my own father (who had quintuple bypass surgery) says, “School is never out.” You’re never too old to learn something new or grow in new ways. Congratulations on your epiphany and best of health to you.
    Yesterday at 10:21am

    Julie Alameda: We both know all to well how a dietary life style change can have a direct effect on your health. It’s so hard in the beginning. I wish your father all the luck in the world. It takes a ton of courage to make such a drastic change later in life. Bravo to you :))
    23 hours ago

    Vira Katolik: What dedication and what an amazing change – you are surely to reap the benefits.
    21 hours ago

    Tammy Turner: What a huge change! Cannot imagine him without BBQ. Best wishes on increased health and longevity. We want you around as long as possible.
    17 hours ago

    Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld: That was fabulous Christy! Kudos to your very smart Dad for changing his diet and way of life to benefit his health! Wish him well for me! xoxo! :-) ♥ ♥ ♥

  9. Holly says:

    Uncle Paul-
    For the record, your oldest brother did indeed have a heart condition. However he died from complications from an accidental head injury, NOT a heart attack. I am happy to hear that you are changing your dietary lifestyle. Does Dr. Esselstyn recommend an exercise program in conjuction with this diet?

  10. HF says:

    Great post – best to your dad! I can’t wait to read about more updates, and I’d love to hear more about what he’s eating… we have major heart disease in our Midwest group, and I’d love to get my father on board with some healthier alternatives!

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