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.”
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.