Having been raised in Idaho in a family that has always been very active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was taught about the Word of Wisdom. I was taught that the use of tobacco, drinking of alcoholic beverages as well as coffee and black tea was prohibited. I was aware that other substances were ordained for the use of man by God including fruits in their season, vegetables, and grains. I had been raised to believe that since meat was ordained for the use of man, it was also good to consume. In addition our family took pride in the dairy business that they were involved in, even though my father chose another path of employment shortly after my birth. We believed the commercials that milk “does a body good.”
After getting married and being on my own, I never allowed margarine on my dinner table, only the finest butter. Ice cream was purchased by the gallons and always readily available, as well as cheese. I reveled in some of my specialty dishes; my three egg ham and cheese omelets were a favorite of my family, as well as my pecan pie, grilled New York Steak, and my award winning chili (which was always more carne than beans). In the United States, the LDS culture is immersed in the Western diet that I was so accustomed to. Potlucks, barbeques, funerals, ice cream socials, and all other social gatherings within the Church are centered on a diet of meat and dairy.
On a Sunday morning in the spring of 2013 I woke to a nagging pressure in my chest with radiating pain in my neck and left arm, deep inside. This is a symptom that had been slowly getting worse over the previous two years. At first it was only noticeable when I was involved in extreme exercise, but it gradually showed up when I simply walked up a flight of stairs. This morning I was not doing anything, but it was there. I thought about skipping Church that day and resting, thinking that I may have just overdid it the day before on our motorcycle ride. I was reminded of a talk that I had heard at some conference in the past that if we didn’t want to do something the Lord wanted us to do, then we should really do it because there was something that we were supposed to learn from it, so I got ready for Church with my wife and we went.
During Sacrament meeting one of the speakers relayed a recent experience he had endured when he had a heart attack, so afterward I felt inspired to ask him about the symptoms. He asked me why, and I relayed to him what I was feeling. He told me to go immediately to the emergency room, and to not attend the following Sunday School or Priesthood meetings. Well I, being the stubborn soul that I am, attended Sunday School anyways; however, the pressure in my chest was not getting better, so afterward I told my wife that maybe we should go to the emergency room so they could rule out my heart as the culprit.
I drove us to the emergency room and walked in from the parking lot with my wife in tow. When I explained to the admitting people the symptoms, they were very gracious. They escorted me to a room, had me take off a good portion of my clothes, and immediately hooked me up to an EKG. They also took what seemed to be a gallon and a half of my blood. My wife was left to do the admitting paperwork.
Within a few moments I had a team of specialists attending to me, and the ER doctor joined them. He said that my blood tests indicated I was having a heart attack. They gave me a bunch of medicines to stabilize me including several Nitro pills to dilate my arteries, which was very successful in moving the pain in my chest to my head as the arteries in my brain received the influx of blood.
The next morning they performed an angiogram and determined that three of the main arteries that feed my heart with necessary blood were blocked. Two of them were blocked at 99% and one was not so bad, it was only blocked at 95%. They cleared the two worst ones and installed stents via angioplasty. They closed me up and told me I would have to come back in a couple of months after my heart recovered from what they had done. Several months later I had the third procedure done.
The cardiologist there advised me that I would have to take a cocktail of medicines the rest of my life to prevent further blockages. He said that the clogging was throughout my heart and there was nothing that would reverse it. He advised me to exercise and eat less fat, to stick to white chicken breast that was skinned, turkey, and lean beef. He also suggested I switch to skim milk, but stated that eggs were fine. So for the next year I continued to fill my arteries with more and more plaque.
By the spring of 2015, the symptoms were returning when I exercised, so one day while working from home, I made the choice to go back to the emergency room where again I received some great attention, however the blood tests came back negative, the enzyme that is present when one is having a heart attack, was not present, so the ER doctor wanted to release me. Thankfully the cardiologist who had performed the first two stents was at the hospital that day, so he stopped in to see me. He asked how I felt, and I described it to him. He suggested I undergo another angiogram to rule out another blockage. He said that since I know how I feel better than any tests could show, and that since I knew what it feels like, it was all he needed to order the test.
After much argument between him and the ER doctor, I was scheduled for the procedure the following morning. During the procedure they discovered that the third stent had not been inflated fully, which caused a blockage to form downstream from it. He installed my fourth stent and inflated the third one fully. Upon discharge he stated I needed to schedule a follow-up appointment in a month, however they assigned me a new cardiologist for the follow-up.
The day of the appointment, the new cardiologist came in the room. My first impression of him was a slim version of Jim Carey, the comedian. The doctor had a very infectious smile and demonstrated an excellent concern about my previous experiences at the hospital. Once he clarified that I wasn’t there to complain about my previous service, he finally got down to looking at why I was there. After looking at my charts and checking my current readings, he looked me in the eye and asked some very straightforward questions.
He asked me if stents save lives. I responded with a resounding yes. I was living proof of it! He then asked if they cure heart disease, and I had to admit they did not. He carefully explained that stents are band-aids, only good for getting someone out of immediate distress, but the underlying heart disease is not reversed and eventually the heart disease would either kill me, or I would need even more drastic measures, such as bypass surgery or even a heart transplant.
He then asked a very important question, “What if there was a way to reverse the clogging of your arteries without undergoing more surgery, would you be interested in that?” My reply was a resounding “Yes!” He went on to explain that there was a study he has been following about the correlation with heart disease and the Western diet. He stated that in the study, a control group with advanced stages of heart disease, much more advanced than mine, had switched to a whole foods plant-based diet and over a relatively short period of time had been able to clear their arteries and resume a full life of activity.
He explained that the diet was fairly simple: if it had eyes, ever had babies, or came from anything that met that category, you simply did not eat it. You could eat all the grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts you wanted, but eat them in their whole food state, not processed. He went on to advise me to avoid any oils, not even olive oil and reiterated that these steps may seem drastic, but compared to having my chest cracked open and having my heart yanked out and replaced with someone else’s, it really is quite simple.
My thoughts immediately turned to the passages in the Word of Wisdom, the ones that pertain to what we are supposed to be eating: fruits, grains, vegetables, and meat, however meat only in times of famine and hunger. This was a concept that I had never adhered to in my entire life of 61 years. In fact, prior to this day, my opinion of a meal is that it was not a meal unless it contained some type of meat. I relished my grilled New York Steak, prime rib, three egg ham and cheese omelets, even my award winning chili contained grilled, cubed, New York Steak. I never experienced hunger or famine so I can attest that I had never followed this precept of the Word of Wisdom. I knew what the doctor was telling me was correct and that I would benefit from following it, not because he was a doctor and had told me, but because my Creator, my Father in Heaven, had revealed it to his chosen prophet over 150 years ago and promised it! I would be able to walk and not be weary and run and not be faint. It was easy for me to tell the doctor I would modify my lifestyle.
We talked for some time about dos and don’ts of the new diet. He explained that dairy does not do a body good, period. He explained it simply: we are the only species of mammals on the planet that once weaned off the milk of our mothers, switch to the milk of another species and then continue to consume it for the rest of our lives. He told me to get the movie Forks over Knives and watch it. It would give me the information about the study and how to follow the plan.
My wife and I talked about the lifestyle change this would entail on the drive home. We were apprehensive about starving to death on it. She was especially concerned about knowing what to prepare, having never lived this way. We found the movie Forks Over Knives on Netflix when we arrived home and watched it. By the end of the movie, we were committed to the new lifestyle. Even though we had apprehensions, it was easy of us to commit because I had no choice; it was the only hope I had to recover from the years of bad diet.
Shortly after the first visit with the new cardiologist, a Facebook friend of my wife suggested we look into the Facebook Discovering the Word of Wisdom support group. She had been using it to get ideas on new and exciting recipes, and this has been instrumental in our success.
Last month, I had my 6-month checkup. The doctor was giddy about my results. My bad cholesterol had dropped 29% on the diet. My weight had dropped over 20 lbs. The oxygen level in my blood had increased, my blood pressure had dropped as well as my heart rate, and across the board my improvements were miraculous. The doctor took me off the statin, the medicine I was taking to slow my heart rate because it was no longer necessary. He advised me that after April, I can also stop taking the Plavix, and at the next checkup, I should be able to get off the blood pressure medicine. He stated that I would still have to take a baby aspirin the rest of my life, but compared to the cocktail of medicines I was taking before, I can live with it.
My wife who was also following the diet had lost even more weight, over 50 lbs in the six months of eating a whole foods plant-based diet. She was able to stop taking Prozac for clinical depression and Prilosec for acid reflux (GERD), both of which she had been taking for over ten years. Now she only needs some Tums when she cheats with some chocolate!
Last Saturday, I ran a mile and walked two and was not weary and not faint. The chest pain is gone, and food is now starting to taste as great as it did when I was a small child. We no longer have any desire to eat the foods that were slowly killing me, and we look forward to swimming, biking, camping, fishing, hiking, running, and living the full life we lived when we were in our 20s. But is this not what our Heavenly Father has promised? He keeps his promises.
Dave (62) and Petra (57) live in the East San Francisco Bay area. Dave graduated from Eastern Washington University with a BA degree in Accounting. Petra was educated in Germany (Business) and the U.S. (Arts and Science). They have been married for 37 short years, and have had two girl bundles of joy who where married in the temple. The icing on their cake are their 6 sweet grandbabies. ❤ Petra is a retired housewife and Dave still works to support her habit. They enjoy riding their Harley Davidson motorcycles (OK, they are going through a midlife crisis!). They love visiting their grandbabies (and children, because the children live with their grandbabies). Plus they like to spoil their little Lasso Apso dog that was rescued from death row by these two kind folks.