My story goes back to 1997 when I was diagnosed with Sheehan’s Syndrome, postpartum hypopituitarism. I was nine months post-partum and still nursing. The doctor wanted me to go on radioactive iodine, but something inside of me felt very horrible about that decision. I told the doctor to give me two weeks to make the decision. He was hesitant, but said okay. During that time I prayed with all of my being. The idea came to me that I was not done bringing babies into the world and that I needed to find a natural way to heal my body. Then I heard the words in my mind, “Thou shalt run and not be weary, walk and not faint.”
I knew that I needed to take a deeper look into the Word of Wisdom and train myself on how to follow the dietary counsel. I went to the library and looked up every cookbook that I could find that fit most closely to the Word of Wisdom dietary counsel. The book 12 Days to Dynamic Health by John McDougall, M.D. was the only book in that Utah library that I could find that even remotely supported the counsel. I took the book home, combed through, followed it’s guidelines, and two weeks later my blood work was normal.
What I learned was that eating high amounts of sugar depletes the B vitamins in our bodies, and messes up the thyroid. My doctor, who was also LDS, was so impressed that he too switched to the McDougall program. I lost 50 pounds, and all the while, I did not know that I was already in an early pregnancy with my fourth baby. Had I gone on the radioactive iodine, his health would have been severely compromised. I have since that time had three more babies, who would probably have not been able to come to our family with the thyroid trouble I was having.
Fast forward to 2012 . . . I had followed the McDougall Program over the years about 70% of the time. I knew the principles very well, but did not always stick to them. My husband and I especially did not follow the program on the weekends when we went out to eat on Friday nights. My weight crept up, and so did my husband’s. We added more and more amounts of meat, telling ourselves that we weren’t eating very much. We’d cheat on desserts, and added cheese back as well.
Early in 2012, I could tell that my husband had trouble with his heart. I knew because years before I had read Dr. McDougall’s The McDougall Program for a Healthy Heart. My grandfather-in-law had died of heart disease at age 56, and both of my brothers-in-law had stents and by-pass surgery before the age of 45. I knew I needed to educate myself for my husband’s sake.
My husband’s symptoms began in the mid 2000’s when he was in his late 30’s and couldn’t keep himself awake while driving long distances. He often complained of fatigue and feeling like he had the flu. The next symptom came in early 2012, excessive sweating, increased fatigue, and flu-like symptoms, as well as ice pick headaches.
By the summer of 2012, after months of my mentioning that I thought he had a heart problem, my husband developed tingling in the back of his left arm and left chest pressure, which he thought was muscle related. He went to see the chiropractor who told him to go see a cardiologist.
I, too, have a heart condition, due to celiac disease, which causes my heart to erroneously seek an alternative electrical pathway, causing my upper heart chamber to take over the beating and heartbeats of 180 bpm. This is a nervous system problem caused by the celiac disease, not a heart disease problem, but because I was on the doctor’s panel already, I was able to quickly get my husband into the cardiologist when the arm pain became a problem, and he was set up for a CT angiography the next afternoon.
He was found to have two severely blocked arteries. A note to the men reading this story: If the woman in your life suspects you have a heart problem, swallow your pride and get it checked out. Had we intervened with diet back in 2009, my husband would have been able to avoid so much pain and expense.
The CT angiography showed that his right anterior descending artery was 100% blocked. Yes, 100% blocked. He is alive today because God protected him all of those years with the development of collateral arteries, which Dr. McDougall says develops due to exercise. His left circumflex artery, the one that feeds the back of the heart was 99% blocked, and while there is no definitely known damage to the heart, his effusion fraction was at the bottom of average at 50% and the surgeon says he may have suffered a mild heart attack at some point in time. His left anterior descending has 40% blockage, and if he were to cheat on his diet, he could have a heart attack in that artery. The left anterior descending is known as the widow maker and often takes it’s victim at the first sign of heart disease, which is often a heart attack.
Fortunately, for our family, in December 2011, suspecting my husband’s problem, I had already sought out more resources that matched the McDougall Program and had discovered Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., Jr.’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease program, which is nearly identical to Dr. McDougall’s, but has extensive research over dozens of years and over 200 patients to back up the fact that eating a low-fat plant-based diet that does not contain nuts, or vegetable fats/oils, not only prevents but reverses heart disease. I was encouraged that my husband could reverse the suspected heart disease, and maybe avoid a heart attack, which he did, if I learned about this program and incorporated it into our family diet.
This program is based on a low-fat plant based diet. I followed it about 80% beginning in December 2011, and was successful in encouraging my husband to follow it about 60% of the time. I believe that, although he did develop more serious disease during that time, we avoided a massive heart attack because of the increased awareness. However, it was not enough.
My husband had his first stent placement on an emergency basis, no heart attack, but disabling angina in October 2012. He had a piece of cake an hour before the surgery. That was his last piece of cake with white flour, eggs, sugar, and frosting. He has not had one since, and neither have I.
After the surgery, I e-mailed Dr. Esselstyn and told him of our story. My husband was due to have his 100% blocked artery worked on by coronary total occlusion therapy on December 4, 2012 with a stent placement that would require two guide wires, one each going through the top of each thigh in the groin, and two surgeons, one working through the top of his heart, and the second working up through the bottom of his heart.
Dr. Esselstyn called us and counseled us, and assured me we could avoid this procedure if we were patient with the diet, but as parents of seven children we didn’t feel we could wait the time needed for the diet to work. He had too much pain and too many responsibilities; so, we scheduled the surgery. We also followed Dr. Esselstyn’s recommendations 100% during the six weeks between the first stent placement in his left circumflex artery, and the (CTO) therapy in his right anterior descending artery which had “long severe stenosis.”
To make a long story short, the surgery that was supposed to be a five-hour surgery took 30 minutes, and only one surgeon was needed, and the surgeon said that the stenosis had healed to the point that it was only the thickness of a piece of tissue paper. We explained that we had been following a low-fat plant based diet, but he laughed at us and said he would see us back with more blockages in the future.
As of April, 2015, my husband has lost 75 pounds and has kept it off without regular exercise. He eats as much as he wants to feel satisfied. He is off of all of his heart medications, including statins, and he has not had any heart events, or even symptoms, since February 2013. His doctor is completely impressed and has had Dr. Esselstyn come to speak at a conference to 200 other physicians in our small city. Unfortunately, only two physicians that I am aware of were converted to the principle of healing heart disease through diet as a result of the conference.
My husband and I are now 100% on a low-fat, plant-based diet. In early April we had our cholesterol tested. My husband’s total was 157. Mine was 177. Both of us, prior to following the diet 100% were never able to get our total cholesterol amounts below 210.
My husband’s heart disease symptoms are completely gone. He no longer sweats, no longer gets sleepy when he is driving, no longer snores, is able to keep up with our six boys in playing basketball, tennis, running, and lifting weights. He has been able to do just about anything an average 52 year-old man can do that doesn’t have heart disease, and he looks 10 years younger according to many of our ward members that have known him for a long time. He is no longer depressed, and he is serving as the first counselor in our bishopric.
I have a testimony in the Word of Wisdom. I have put it to the test many times. It is a principle with a promise. I am not going to say that my husband will never have a heart attack. For us this is still an experiment, although we have faith in the Esselstyn studies, but I don’t want to make a promise to anyone as we continue to test out this idea.
I would like to also add that our house is on a very hilly piece of property, and I used to have consistent breathlessness and slight chest pressure if I got going too fast up and down the hill. I no longer experience any chest pressure, so I believe that the diet reversed a heart disease situation for me, as well.
My husband and I are both feeling so well, so healthy and energetic with me in my late forties and my husband in his early 50’s, that we are converted to the principles of reversing heart disease through eating a low-fat, plant-based diet brings. I am confident that following the counsel given to us has given us a gift of two and a half years of peace of mind from the day we left the hospital after my husband’s second stent placement in December 2012 to now. More than that, we both have a bright hope for the future.
Deb Hadden is 48 years old and lives in pork and egg country, in Des Moines, Iowa. She and her husband are the parents of seven children, six of which are boys! She was clinically diagnosed with celiac disease and follows a gluten free low-fat plant-based vegan diet. She enjoys reading, writing, including blogging, playing the piano, gardening, traveling, learning about technology, and most of all spending time with her family.