In November of this year I met Al Schmidt at a vegan meet up group at a local vegan restaurant. As soon as we discovered that we both were following an SOS free whole food plant based diet (no salt, no oil, no sugar) we became instant friends! I am so inspired by Al’s story of how simply changing what he ate completely transformed his life and reversed his debilitating heart disease. In fact a whole food plant based diet gave Al a second chance to live the life he desires at age 81. I had to convince Al that his story is inspirational for people of all ages. Al inspires me to stay steadfast with my food choices. My body is a little cholesterol making machine which is what first motivated me to adopt this way of eating. I know that if I wasn’t following a whole food plant based diet that is free of cholesterol, salt, oil and sugar I would surely be suffering from heart disease. Sharing Al’s story is my Christmas gift to you – I love a story with a happy ending.
My name is Al Schmidt, I am 81 and I have been on an incredible journey since July 2016, and this is my story. I have had coronary artery disease for most of my adult life.
In 1984, when I was 48, I had my first angina pains while riding a bicycle. I had always been active. After a series of tests I had a quintuple bypass. That was a traumatic event in my life. I felt like someone put me in a bag, and all my ex-wives had pummeled me with baseball bats, then threw me, in the bag, down a flight of stairs. As you might imagine I did not want to ever go through this again.
I took the pledge, gave up red meat, and embarked on a low fat diet. I watched my weight, around 170 I continued to be active, walking, hiking, and biking. My father had died at 59 and that was about 10 years away. He was overweight and ate meat with every meal. So I got religion and went on what I thought was a healthy low fat diet. My goal was to limit my fat intake to around 20%-25% of my daily calories and no red meat. After a while I modified that to no beef, but I would eat grass feed bison. Remember this was the 80’s and 20%-25% fat was considered low.
In 1999 I retired to El Dorado Hills, CA. and took up bicycling again, and would ride 12 to 15 miles. In 2004 I was bicycling and had back pain. I was 6 miles into my 12 mile ride. I returned to my truck, drove home on the freeway.The pain did not go away, so I went to the emergency room where I met Dr Sandy Barber. She introduced herself as a cardiologist. Trying to understand the situation, I asked her if she would continue to be my cardiologist. She looked at me and said “Till Death Do Us Part”. I love a MD with a sense of humor. When she retired, I told her she couldn’t retire, because we both were still alive!
“I felt I was living on borrowed time.”
I had an angiogram and was told I needed a stint. I was transferred to Mercy for the stint. This time the recovery was minimal. I had two incisions in my groin one from the angiogram and one from the stint. I remember thinking how easy a stint was compared to open heart surgery. I had to wonder if my original cardiac surgery had been this easy would I have changed my lifestyle?
As I said my father did not live to sixty and I was already 70. I felt I was living on borrowed time. I attributed my extended time to my diet. I had followed it religiously with very little cheating or so I thought. In fact upon recent reflection I can see how over the twenty some years I had relaxed quite a bit as far as desserts were concerned. I would always pass up on the whipped cream, but I would have some of what I thought was low fat ice cream on a piece of cake – high fat cake. I have a weakness for sweets.
As time went on I had some problems with PVC’s (premature ventricular contractions) and such. I became intolerant to several long term medications that I had been taking. I was unable to take ANY statin to keep my cholesterol down. I had another stint implanted, various irregular pulse problems, and GERD. In my case my GERD would mimic angina, that is sometimes I would only get it when I exerted.
“I spent $10,000 installing stair lifts in my house, and spent much more time in sedentary activities.”
In 2014 I started having shortness of breath and chest pains while walking and going up and down stairs. I started taking Imdur and Ranexa which opened my blood vessels. While my symptoms went away, I knew what my future held.
Since I had a lot of metrics in my daily life like walking 1.6 miles, climbing stairs, and even rolling empty rubbish containers up my driveway, I had been tracking the constriction of my blood vessels for the last decade. For instance I started bicycling 12 miles in 2000 and by 2010 I was down to three miles. In the last couple of years instead of walking 1.6 miles, I was walking 1.0 and then half a mile, until finally just to the next house. I noticed a degradation of any task that required exertion.
So in 2016 right after my 80th birthday it was not a surprise when I could not walk any more or even short distances and climb stairs without getting angina. I tried adjusting. I spent $10,000 installing stair lifts in my house, and spent much more time in sedentary activities.
“I could not walk at all without severe angina.”
The year before I had made reservations to go fishing in Alaska with a fishing buddy in March. It became obvious that I would not be a good idea to spend a week in an isolated lodge three hours from a city.
On a trip to Carson City NV, altitude 48 hundred feet I could not walk at all without severe angina. At night I felt like I could not get my breath, so I had to cut the trip short and come home.
We had scheduled a River cruise from Paris and a then a trip to Wisconsin for a grand niece’s wedding. The cruise line had assured me there would be very little walking, but in Paris I had to climb two flights in the old subway system and had terrible chest pains. Up to this point, I had not used any of my Nitro pills, but in the next two days I used all that I had brought with me. I flew home after a very expensive and uncomfortable weekend in Paris, instead of a nice river cruise.
“In other words, there was nothing they could do.”
At this point I was not able to attend my grand niece’s wedding. I had a stint installed just before the wedding, but it did nothing to ease my symptoms. I was told that the problem was that the blockage was in the small vessels of my heart. There was no intervention possible, and I was at the upper limit of taking Imdur and Ranexa. In other words, there was nothing they could do.
“By 80 years of age I had become a full-fledged card carrying Cardiac Cripple.”
In addition, I was suffering from the side effects, extreme dizziness, weakness, disorientation, and falling down. I was also suffering from insomnia and advanced GERD. My acid reflex would mimic heart pain, which caused me untold stress, as well as numerous trips to the ER. (I would have received frequent ambulance miles, if they were available.) I was a mess.
By 80 years of age I had become a full-fledged card carrying Cardiac Cripple. A Cardiac Cripple is one that cannot complete the normal daily actives without debilitating chest pains. This included sex. As an aside I have to mention, regarding sex in your 80s, “four” play takes on a new importance. It becomes more like “eight” play. But I digress.
I could not climb stairs, I could not walk from my house to my neighbor’s house without severe and frightening chest pains. I could not take the trash out. I had been used to walking a mile and a half, climbing stairs, and living an active life. My existence now was limited to sitting in front of my computer and or watching TV (and I hate TV). I was becoming depressed. I was lower than snake shit in a wheel rut.
“I was terrified to leave my house.”
I was not only a cardiac cripple, but I was terrified to leave my house. I passed up a family wedding in Los Angeles, mostly due to fear. Essentially I could not travel at all.
I signed up for Kaiser’s cardiac rehab program.I could hardly walk to the meeting room. At the first meeting they started talking about exercise and diet. This depressed me, I mean after all exercise and diet had gotten me to 80, and now I could not exercise at all. I suffered through the exercise portion.
“A dietitian presented the “Plant Based Diet.”
Then a dietitian presented the “Plant Based Diet.” The presenter stressed that they were “suggesting” not recommending this diet. She also mentioned that while she thought the diet was beneficial, she personally was not on the diet. I thought this was strange. On one of the handouts there was a picture of an angiogram showing a dramatic reversal of coronary disease over a 32 month period.
“I did not think I would see my next birthday.”
Having seen a lot of my own angiograms, this illustration spoke to me. Blockage can be reversed through diet!
“I felt my life was over.”
My back was against the wall. I did not think I would see my next birthday. I felt my life was over, so what did I have to loose? This may have been a drowning man trying to clutch at a straw, but it was the only hope I had. I did check with my Cardiologist, Dr Kruana and she told me that a whole food plant based SOS free diet would help more than medicine could. (Looking back, that was a fairly safe statement, after all she had already told me she could not do anything else medically for me.)
They recommended three books on whole food plant based nutrition. They are listed below.
“It took a while to read and figure out what to eat, but the results were spectacular!”
My favorite phrase is “Anything worth doing, is worth doing to wretched excess.” So in July of 2016, I got all three books and started this incredible journey.
I am blessed that I have a wonderful wife that is not only supportive, but Dottie is an excellent cook. I soon figured that I would, or rather my lovely and charming wife, would need some cook books, so I ordered half a dozen. I found that it was not all that hard to find information on Plant Based Diets.
“After just 4 weeks on a whole food plant based diet, I walked by the lake for over a mile!”
It took a while to read and figure out what to eat, but the results were spectacular! Remember, I could not walk any distance, could not climb stairs or push the trash can up my driveway without severe angina. Well after 4 weeks on a whole food plant based diet we went to Tahoe for lunch. After my salad with no fat dressing, we went for a walk by the lake. Walked for over a mile, at 6,000 feet. Then climbed stairs to return to my car. I could not quite believe it. When I got home I started walking my 1.6 mile route again, and I have not used my stair lifts since!
“They told me that deteriorating kidney function could not be reversed and yet right in front of me on the screen there was my now normal kidney test results!”
One of the side effects of the Plant Based Diet is weight loss. I lost 30 pound in 2 months. At first I was concerned. I went to see Dr Sobelman, and after examining me, he told me to check a BMI chart and weighing 150 lbs at 5”11” is right in the middle. While examining me he pointed out that my kidney function went from poor to normal on my new diet. You know yellow to green on his computer screen. Four years prior he had sent me to an all-day program on kidney function. There they told me that deteriorating kidney function could not be reversed and yet right in front of me on the screen there was my now normal kidney test results!
“I feel great, I have much more energy and I love the food I eat!”
SO HOW ABOUT SOME RESULTS
First NO angina. I can walk long distances, I can climb stairs, and I am mobile again.
My Cholesterol went from 196 to 149 in 3 months.
I lost 30 pounds. I am 5’ 11” and went from 180 to 150 in two months, which was fast. I was in such poor shape when I started a whole food plant based diet that my stomach could not handle large meals. This diet is low calorie density food, and I had to get used to eating the larger portions.
I feel great. I have much more energy. I go out and do all the little fix-it chores that I had been neglecting before. I don’t have my usual 3 o’clock lack of energy. I don’t doze off when I am reading or in front of my computer.
I don’t get those ugly looking bruise marks on my arms and hands any more.
I love the food I eat!
In January of 2017 I had an appointment with my cardiologist, Dr. Kruana.
She asked if I had any angina. No!
She asked if I had any other chest pains. No!
She asked if I was still taking Imdur (time release Nitro) No!
She asked if I was still taking Ranexa. No!
She asked if I was still feeling Dizzy. No!
She asked if I was still feeling weakness. No!
“No more stair lifts!”
I told her I did not have any symptoms at all. I can walk my 1.6 miles, I can go upstairs two at a time and do not use my stair lifts! Then I told her that I walked up four flights of stairs to see her! That’s when she asked me if I would be willing to share my story. She arranged for me to speak before 100 medical professionals, which scared the hell out of me. I had two months to prepare for the meeting. I had been retired for 20 years and before that I was just a landlord, so I had NO experience talking before people. First thing I figured out was to know what the hell I was talking about.
I had read the three books recommended, but there was much more I did not know. I knew I did not know enough. That’s when I discovered the internet. In two months I crammed a whole lot of information into my pointed head. To this point I only used the three books. Now with the benefit of the internet I found a wealth of information. Admittedly some of it was trash. After all the internet is GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).
“The body has an incredible ability to heal it self, if we just let it and I am living proof of that.”
I had the foundation of a whole food plant based diet from T. Colin Campbell, Dr Esselstyn and Dr Greger. Then I found Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. Pam Popper.
All of these doctors traveled very different paths and yet all arrived at the same conclusion! By going on a WFPBD you allow the body to heal it self, by NOT putting harmful food in to it.
The body has an incredible ability to heal itself, if we just let it and I am living proof of that. The change was so dramatic and so quick, that I had a hard time believing it myself. Yet long walks and climbing stairs could not be denied. One of the problems is that I got well so quickly, I was terrified that perhaps the improvement could be reversed just as quickly.
I watch what I eat like a hawk. I don’t cheat EVER. I like what I consider, my new life.
Are you inspired by Al’s remarkable story? I will be sharing part two of Al’s story in another blog post and we are going to sit down for an interview for my You Tube channel! Be sure to subscribe to my Nutmeg Notebook You Tube Channel.
It is my hope that if you know anyone who is suffering from heart disease you will share Al’s story with them. Purchase the books that changed Al’s life and share them with your loved ones this Christmas. I follow the same diet as Al in order to prevent getting heart disease in the first place. Hubby Tom has joined me with these lifestyle choices and our adult children are plant based as well as our granddaughter. Tom and I both lost weight eating this way and have amazing health because of our food and lifestyle choices. A whole food plant based lifestyle is a health promoting diet. The food we choose to eat can either help our bodies or hurt our bodies.
The fifteen leading causes of premature death such as heart disease, cancer type II diabetes, Parkinson’s, high blood pressure and others can be prevented through diet and lifestyle choices. This is all backed up by strong scientific evidence. Check out the Nutrition Facts website and watch Dr Greger’s health related videos that are based on the latest scientific research. I encourage everyone to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives on Netflix as well as What The Health. They are so informative and they changed our lives!
My wish for you is that you will enjoy a long and healthy life!
Be sure and check out my product recommendations on www.amazon.com/shop/nutmegnotebook
Here is the link to Al’s Story Part Two!
A Little Nutmeg Nugget: When I started this blog in January of 2010 I followed what I understood to be a healthy version of the standard American diet, ironically also known as the “SAD” diet. As interest in my own health and how it was affected by the food I ate evolved, I transitioned to a whole food plant based diet also known as “WFPB” diet. I have wrestled with the fact that this blog still contains all those posts and recipes from the SAD way of eating I have left behind. I no longer advocate for anyone to eat that way. At this time I am leaving those recipes and posts here. It is a record of my journey and how I came to follow a WFPB way of eating. It is my hope that those who still come here for those old recipes will be curious about what I am doing now. Perhaps they will dip their toes across the line as I did and try some plant based recipes and learn more about the health benefits.
I love hearing from you dear readers! Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.
I love Al’s story! Can’t wait for you to do the You Tube video with him. The power of plants amazes me constantly and when I think of how many lives and families that are needlessly destroyed because they aren’t being told the truth, makes me sad. I’m rooting for Al! BTW, I think you two look similar and you could pass for his very beautiful daughter! Thank you for sharing Al’s journey!
Thank you for your comment! A couple of people have said that we look like relatives! It is a shame that more people don’t know about the power of plants. That is why I am blogging about it!
Letha L Anderson
Great testimonial. I especially like the line, ““Anything worth doing, is worth doing to wretched excess.” Thanks for sharing.
Al, You have an amazing story that is so inspiring! How wonderful that you were able to reclaim your health despite all that you’ve been through. Thank you so much for sharing this and I know it’s going to touch a lot of lives in a very positive way! Congratulations on taking your health back into your own hands!
Oh my word!! I am on the edge of my seat, so looking forward to part II and a video! Al, thank you so much for sharing your story! So much inspiration! Tami, thanks for allowing others to hear your friends story! Give each other a hug for me! This just warms my heart so!
Jane & Michael Madden
Tami – The message to follow is for Al.
Tami shared your story with us on another Facebook page and then pointed me in this direction to read the expanded version. We are so glad she did.
Like you, my husband had reached the end of what medicine could do other than a heart transplant. He would never have lived long enough to get one. When I found the work of Esselstyn the last Sunday in May of 2014, we were already preparing for his death. It was hideous, emotional torture. Compared to what we knew we were facing, eating a no oil, whole food, plant-based way seemed a lot less scary. In his case, it took seven days for the impact to be dramatic. He could walk and breathe at the same time!! Everything took off from there. It is now heading for 4 years later and he is free of heart disease and we can look at a long, happy, healthy future together. He never got the heart transplant. He did not need it after he switched to the plants. His basket of medications were no longer necessary after several weeks.
We nearly lost what mattered most to us and in the end, that was a good thing. It was such a huge kick in the behind, such an enormous fright that we, too, would never, ever dream of “cheating.” Thank you for sharing your story so that others might learn from your journey.
By the way, we know you said you had started into your 80’s but I hope someone has already told you that you could easily pass for twenty years younger!
We wish you all the best!
Now that is an inspiring story. Write up your story and give it Tami. I’m sure everyone here would love to hear more.
(PS you might need glasses)
Great photo! You both look vibrant! Al you are an inspiration to all of us.
Al, your story is going to let people know that one can get healthy and live vibrantly no matter our age. People in our age bracket say they just don’t think that there is anything they can do to help themselves and they just give up and wait to die! Thank you for your incredible transformation and I am so happy to be your “other” best friend…along with Tami❤️
What a wonderful experience to share. Loved hearing about the great results Al has had in such a short time. Amazing how our bodies can heal if given the right fuel. Thanks for sharing
I am so glad you allowed Tami to share your incredibly inspirational story. Not only is it an incredible testimony to the power of plant based diets, but it is a strong motivator for those people who don’t feel that this diet can really make a difference. I will keep your success close to my heart as I enter the aging process as a powerful reminder of the strength of plants. And by the way, I LOVE your humor..you cracked me up!
You should go on a speaking tour to all the local retirement homes and tell the residents that they don’t have to just give up and die! I will be speaking in Sac next February and I hope I get to meet you! Great job on reclaiming your health!
Love & Kale,
CONGRATULATIONS, Al! So very well done! What an wonderful story and inspiring individual you are! xoxo
Hi Tami and Al! What an inspiring story! It is amazing that after just four weeks his body healed itself! This is an inspiration to me to eat this way every single meal, every single day, every single week, every single year! I am so happy for you!
Yay Al! Thanks for sharing your amazing journey. I’ve been WFPB for 6 years now (in my late 50’s) and am doing so as preventative after 50 years of eating meat, cheese and everything else. I live nearby in Sacramento and am so pleased to see more folks sharing that this is the way to go. Really glad Kaiser offered this to you as an option. My Dad passed in 2009 from heart disease and Kaiser’s heart healthy classes never mentioned this back then. He came home from hospital care with a large bag of prescriptions instead which is standard. In 2011 I stumbled across Dr Sanjay Gupta’s documentary “The Last Heart Attack” on CNN. I thought I’d try the diet for 30 days and see how it went. I feel healthier and am enjoying relearning how and what to cook. You probably already know about Sacramento’s Vegan Chef Challenge each October. Not necessarily oil free but there are some options in case you like to eat out sometimes. Looking forward to Part 2. You are a fantastic story teller. I hope you continue to share your story with others. Continue to be well.
Tami, my hubby and I thank you for sharing this super inspiring story! We’ve shared it already with several friends and family members. Al, you will touch so many people with your incredible story and wonderful sense of humor…between you and Tami, who knows how many lives you will impact! Bravo to you both, and we can’t wait for Part 2!!
Tami, Thank you for sharing Al’s important life-saving story. Al, you were very courageous to try something new and were rewarded with your life. What a blessing. On December 30th, it will be the 18th anniversary of my father’s death from heart disease and diabetes. You describe in vivid detail about how your life was severely curtailed by the disease. My father lived through that torture as well. If I only knew then what I know now… Please keep sharing your story anywhere you can and tell it to everyone who will listen, and even more importantly to those who won’t listen. Maybe one day they will remember your story and will be inspired to follow your lead. I eagerly await part 2 and the video!
Lets get real, there is nothing courageous about some one drowning grabbing on a life preserver. I mean the will to live is very strong. What is courageous is all you out there that are not looking your mortality up close and personal, and yet, you go on and stay on the WFPBD. After all I got to 80 and I never went on the WFPBD and I could have used it. So my hat is off to all of you young wippersnappers that are benefiting from the diet.
Hi Tami and Al, Wow! What a story! And Al, you are an amazing writer. Your story really comes alive. I am 71, and I am so glad that I eat this way too. My main reason was weight loss, but all of the benefits have been amazing! Love and happiness, Laura
Thanks for sharing this inspiring story Tami & Al! I loved it. Congratulations on turning your life around Al. Isn’t it amazing what power there is in food?!!! You are a role model and example to so many, I’m sure. Keep living life with gusto & sharing your journey to health… the world needs to hear it!
Wow, thank you for sharing this incredible story about the power of plants. I know your story has inspired me to stay the course and I hope it will inspire others to start. Thank you!!
Al & Tami,
Thank you so much for taking the time to share this powerful life-changing story. In the 9 years that I’ve been hearing WFPB heart disease reversal success stories, I’ve got to say, yours is a STAND-OUT! It’s powerful, motivational, & is a life raft to anyone who has heart disease. I think it power comes from all the details you’ve included! It’s also a cautionary tale about “believing” that a low-fat, no-meat AHA diet, meds, bypass surgery or stents will do the job–& that they are the only option for heart disease treatment! Incredible how you went from being active to a house-bound cardiac cripple and then literally you were given a new lease on life after 4 weeks on a WFPB “no-cheating” diet. My brother-in-law was also told that there was no comeback from kidney damage. He also proved his doctor wrong, when he went on a WFPB diet. Wishing you continued excellent health as you go from strength to strength. Can’t wait to read Part 2. Happy Holiday to both of you. Debby Kastner, aka The Healthy Librarian
I can validate Al’s story because I had a similar experience. At age 73 I was feeling like the end was near. Tired, feeling weak not able to do the active things I was accustomed to doing.
We switched to the WFPB diet. A week later I could feel the energy returning! Now after 4 1/2 years without meat or dairy products and minimizing processed foods, sugar, salt and fat I feel great. I look forward to regular cardio sessions and weights at the gym. Walks up to 5 miles are a pleasure. Weight is down 50 pounds, LDL 90, and BM! 21.5. Our library has the books mentioned plus many more with the same message.
Love these posts Tami! Congrats Al. Your story is inspiring and I’ve shared it with coworkers!! Thanks Tami
Thanks for sharing Al’s experience. I met Al at the McDougall 10 day program this summer. He’s very enthusiastic about the new way of eating, and his positive attitude motivated me. What a ball of energy he is! I fell off the wagon after a Disney World trip, but hearing from Al and reading his story has once again given me the push to get back to what I learned from Dr. McDougall.