August 19th, 2011
10:42 AM ET
'Heart attack proof' diet worked for me
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was lying in my hospital bed anxiously waiting for another unwanted heart catheterization. I was questioning how this could be happening to me again.
After all, I was only 41 years old. I was in pretty good shape. I didn’t smoke. I ate pretty well. Bad luck, bad genes, what was causing me to need a fifth heart procedure? It was easy to start feeling sorry for myself.
Then I thought about the book that I just finished reading for the second time since my last heart procedure that was sadly and inexplicably preformed just five months prior. It inspired me to pick up my iPad and search for the book’s author Dr. Esselstyn.
Esselstyn's 'heart attack proof' diet
Will you have a heart attack? These tests can tell
To my surprise, his assistant Jackie answered the phone and told me that she would have Dr. Esselstyn return my call as soon as possible. As I hung up the phone, I had to scratch my head and question whether a famous doctor and author in Cleveland who I had just watched on CNN, who didn’t know me from Adam, would return my call as I lay there helplessly in my hospital bed.
To my surprise he did.
I had been rolled into the waiting/recovery room for the catheterization lab when my cell phone rang, that I am pretty sure I was not supposed to be using in the hospital, with Dr. Esselstyn calling. He caringly asked about my health history, blood work results and current symptoms that had led me back to the hospital again that day.
Sadly, he admitted that there was only so much he could do as I was literally minutes from being rolled into the next room to have the catheterization performed, but he did promise that he was convinced there was a way that I could prevent this hospital visit from ever happening again and that I would be hearing from him soon.
Moments later, my heart catheterization had begun and three hours later I was back in my hospital room in tears realizing that I just had three more stents placed around my heart.
In the nine years that preceded that day, I had progressively lost hope. After my first of eight stents were placed at the age of 31, a friend had given me a book called "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease." After reading it I was inspired and confident that I could prevent this from ever happening again.
I then reached out to those that I thought I could trust - doctors, cardiologists, even a nutritionist to validate what I had read. It is safe to say that my confidence quickly turned to confusion. I remember stating, “If eating tree bark and water would keep me out of the hospital, then that is what I would do." Sadly, rather than confirmation, I instead was told that it was not necessary or even realistic that I commit to the lifestyle changes recommend by the book.
Nine years and eight stents later, I can’t help but think that the advice I received was well intentioned but nonetheless wrong.
After my fourth catheterization last June, I decided enough was enough and that there had to be a better way to go. I switched to a doctor that was part of the MDVIP program (focusing on preventive, personalized health care) that had a nutritionist on staff. During my visit with the nutritionist, she recommended strongly that I read Dr. Esselstyn’s book "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease." After immediately reading the book cover to cover, I once again visited with my doctor and cardiologist who were clearly more supportive than my experience from years before, but there still was a suggestion that what I had read was too extreme, unrealistic, and even unnecessary.
Still confused, I did eat much better and exercised regularly. However, I did not follow what was recommended in the book to the letter. I found myself back in the hospital again that November.
Since that day in the hospital, I have not allowed any professional’s opinion or excuse to deter me from implementing what Dr. Esselstyn recommends. I attended his one day program at the Cleveland Clinic in December. My diet has consisted exclusively of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans with no added oils, nuts, seeds or avocado.
What your cholesterol numbers really mean
I have lost 48 pounds. My blood work has gone from total cholesterol of 208, LDL of 93, HDL of 41, and triglycerides of 368 last June to most recent results of total cholesterol of 89, LDL of 19, HDL of 53, and triglycerides of 83. That transformation is nothing short of amazing.
My next challenge is where to go next with my heart medications, which would seem to be unnecessary based on the miraculous change in my blood work.
I don’t blame my doctors, my cardiologists or nutritionists over the years. I believe they had my best interest at heart. I do believe, however, that the world deserves better advice on how to live a long and happy life, free of heart and other diseases.
I know there are no guarantees in life, but I am convinced beyond belief that I am on the right track. If I can do it, I know that anyone else can. They just need to be given a chance by being pointed in the right direction. Hopefully those hearing about my life experiences will help them avoid taking nine years to figure it out as it did with me.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
Four years ago today I wrote this blog post for CNN. It's been almost five years since my last stent was placed. In fact last Spring I had a catheterization that found no new blockage and even better the previous blockage that was too small for a stent had shown evidence of reversal. Today I am happy and healthy, and far from miserable eating my plant based diet and exercising regularly.
Many of my Facebook friends may have seen my multiple posts this week enjoying time with my girls conquering NYC. I honestly don't think I'd be around today to create these life long memories if it weren't for reading Dr. Esselstyn's book and never looking back. Thanks to all of my friends and family for the encouragement and support. Life is good!
Thank you Tom for sharing this & proving that the diet is sustainable long term! Lets hope CNN picks up on this & shares this live saving information with their readers. My guess is that they will not in favor of their advertisers~
Thanks for sharing your awesome story. I too follow Dr. Revelations diet and have had tremendous results. Now off of insulin (130 units a day at start of diet) and off Carvedilol for low ejection fraction. Lost 80 pounds by last August and still maintaining without even thinking about it. I feel too awesome to ever go back to my beloved Buffalo Wings. In April, I applied for my FAA class II medical certification and was issued a special medical. I am currently working on recertification for my flight instructor rating. It's been 23 years since I last taught and I can't tell you how good it feels to be back! Dr E is right on the no nuts, seeds, or avocado as my blood sugar readings start to climb when I imbibe at all on them. I hope all of our positives help convince others of this life saving and enhancing way to live. Thanks again!
I started doing the Esselstyn diet as specified by Dr. Esselstyn, after I wrote an email to his secretary Jacqueline. He called me the next day at 6 am my time. It has been about two weeks now, without meat, fish, dairy, oil, and plus six servings of boiled dark greens per day. After the first 2 days I noticed I could climb stairs without stopping to catch my breath. After 2 weeks, my blood pressure went from 135/ 82 to 105/69. I am ok eating the diet, it is not starvation or deprivation. It is just simple and light. I had a bad calcium score (coronary arteries blocked up with calcium) recently but no symptoms (yet) so I wanted to jump on this an annihilate the illness before it does the same to me. Thanks, Dr. Esselstyn. If you want the best, do his diet exactly as he prescribes, afterall, it is a prescriptive diet for medicinal food, so follow it closely. Don't do your own version of it, do it all 100 percent his way. Good luck, but you won't need it.
After recent stress test abnormalities, and chest pressure with vigorous exercise, I started the Esselstyn diet four weeks ago.
Within one week I had no chest pressure while rowing,..my blood pressure went from 130/80 to 108/60 and I feel great. In two months I hope my scheduled blood test will show improvements from 290 total cholesterol and 190 triglycerides. Without trying to lose weight I have dropped 10 pounds. Go for it !
Hi Tom, How's your blood work now (2017)? I am 42 and had a stent in my LAD. I have been on Dr E's diet for approx 11 months. I have lost weight, and in order to not to loose too much weight I have increased my portion size but my triglycerides started to go up (currently at 142) which worries me- any ideas how to maintain healthy without increasing triglycerides?
I just came upon this article and noticed the most current comments. Amazing, 6 years after the article, people are still sharing stories. Mine began this past Christmas Eve, when I woke up with severe chest pains. A major blockage, two stents later and I find Dr. Esselstyn's book. I email his office, like others have, and receive my own 6:00 AM phone call two days later. I have spoken with the Dr twice now. It is incredible to me that he takes the time to reach out the way he does. I am not his patient, but he clearly cares about my health. On Christmas Eve my total cholesterol was 235, it was 97 the other day, the 90 day anniversary of being on the program. All other measure looked great too. I am not heavy, weighed 170 Christmas Eve but am now down to 153. I have never been on a diet that works so well to take off excess weight. And just think, it is a free-be from the process of eating well to clean up my arteries! I think Dr. E is an American hero, I wish him continued good health and success and hope that some day none of us need wake up in the middle of the night wondering "is this the big one?"
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