A Stroke And A Heart Attack And I Still Think I'm LuckyHeart disease runs in my family. Both my father and father’s father died from heart attacks at the age of 52. My father died when I was 18. I am 61 now. While we were mourning his passing, our family doctor warned my mother to watch for signs that my brother and I may have inherited my family’s genes for heart disease as we entered our middle years.
Around the age of 50 a stress test revealed that I had. Two years later a non-invasive angiogram showed I had significant blockage in my coronary arteries including the widow-maker.
I used to believe that getting heart disease, strokes and other degenerative diseases was a matter of bad luck. Then I heard that these diseases are a product of inherited genetic tendencies and lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress management…). I learned that food choices could either turn on or suppress the expression of these tendencies.
My curiosity about the relationship of food choices to the incidence of disease inspired me to earn a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell.
Thus began my adventure using a combination of western medicine and following a whole food, plant based diet. Pounds and inches dropped from my body and my blood lipid levels also dropped. As great as my results were, I under-estimated how far I needed to go with my diet. In July of last year, nine years after my non-invasive angiogram, I had a stroke and two months later the widow-maker closed up and I had a heart attack.
As enamored as I am about the importance of healthy eating, there is one thing I am very clear about. If it wasn’t for modern medicine, I wouldn’t be here now. I was in the early stages of a heart attack when I walked into the emergency room. Their ability to detect what was going on and quickly place 3 stents in my closed artery saved my life. The medicine that I take daily is as important to my well-being as the food I eat.
I am now following a much stricter version of the diet I was on. I have dropped 15 lbs since July and my total cholesterol dropped from 180 to 129 and my bad cholesterol dropped from 95 to 68.
Before the cardiac events I had both a Primary Care Physician (PCP) and Cardiologist who used both western medicine and plant-based food to care for their patients. Unfortunately, they were more that an hour away. Since the cardiac events, having local doctors is a necessity when dealing with emergencies. I have an excellent local cardiologist and PCP who do not see eye-to-eye with me on the value of plant-based food. I still consult with my Plant-Based Cardiologist. I also have a Neurologist who guides me through my healing after my stroke.
Immediately after my stroke, I could not speak, write or type. I could not walk by myself, even with a walker. I was a graphic designer with excellent eye-hand coordination. As an educator, I taught courses and gave talks. I was physically active and went on frequent walks and bike rides. I worked with a physical therapist, speech and occupational therapist to regain these abilities. Every week I practice physical therapy exercises, work muscles around my mouth that were effected and practice reading out loud.
There is a great book called “Different Strokes” by Steven Boorstein. He shares his stroke story and the stories of other survivors. As challenging as their strokes are, they all say that the value they got outweighs the cost. When I first heard this, I thought, “No way!” This experience has humbled me. I am more compassionate towards myself and others. I feel more real. Makes me think of a quote from the book “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams.
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”