The Daily Beet

13 Jun From Severe Heart Disease to Plant-Strong, Diana’s Incredible Story

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In January of 2011 at 37-years-old, I started to have migraine headaches. I had never experienced a migraine before and this one had been ongoing for two weeks.  A feeling like my physical brain was squeezing inside my skull. I wrote down the effect and described it like, “a Sea Anemone contracting when you touched it underwater”. Then one morning while I was driving carpool, full packed with kids, my eyesight suddenly blacked out from the pressure in my head. I somehow pulled over the car and regained sight. It scared me.
My first thought was brain tumor.  I scheduled an appointment with an ENT to get an MRI of my neck and head.

I had developed other strange symptoms too that had me pretty worried.  My blood pressure felt high.  I never experienced high blood pressure before, but easy to tell because I had stopped wearing tight clothes over those weeks like jeans, bras, belts, elastic because the slightest pressure on my body felt like my circulation was cutting off and squeezing my head.  Similar to squeezing a tube of toothpaste with your hand, but not removing the cap so all the pressure of the paste is pushing the top of the tube.  That was me.

The weekend before my appointment I went on a girl’s trip and had my last warning sign.  It  was when my friends jumped into a hot tub to relax and I joined them.  As I lowered into the pool the pressure from my chest to my head felt like it was going to explode.  I got out and took a cold shower, but the water beating on my forehead hurt like needles.  All of a sudden felt completely lethargic.  I had to go to sleep.  I told the girl’s I was going to take a nap.  I crashed in bed for 4 hours of a deep deep sleep feeling like a cinder block in a cushion.

I went to have my MRI that week and thank goodness nothing resulted.  I went to my regular practitioner and was tested for everything on the planet.  Also an extra screening for the possibility of cancer.  Results were healthy except for the fact that my blood pressure was definitely very high.  The doctor asked about my family history.  He zeroed in on the fact that my dad’s side of the family carried a strong history of heart attacks.  He schedule a heart scan, EKG and nuclear stress test.
The heart scan came back and I had my result.  I had severe heart disease.  My LCX (left circumflex artery) was significantly clogged in the 99% for my age at a score of 385 (400+ the artery is likely 100% clogged).  I also carried the genetic markers ApoE and KIF6 putting me at a greater risk for heart disease and the latter being an inherited gene placing me at a higher risk for a heart attack.  The cardiologist said with these results, “you could expect to have a heart event within 5 years”. I’ll never forget those words.
I was devastated.  The truth was 5 generations back on my dads side the men have all died of sudden cardiac arrest between the ages 50-62. My dad included. He collapsed in a gym in year 2000 while working out. Now I carry the same genes.
The only difference between them and me is that I’m the first female.  How does that translate?

I passed all the other tests like the stress test and EKG which meant I wasn’t a candidate for immediate action.  The cardiologist gave me a prescription for Prevastatin (my new statin drug) that would stabilize my blood pressure and lower my cholesterol (currently at 204).  She told me that since I was skinny and I looked healthy I was not to worry.  My dad was skinny.

I felt like the cardiologist left me hanging with no action plan.  Just a “wait until you have a heart attack then we can take action” plan.  Remember my family doesn’t have heart attacks, they have sudden cardiac arrest.  I didn’t like the doctor’s orders.  My immediate reaction was to read, read, read and educate myself.  Bury my heavy head in all the latest studies and knowledge.

The game changer from this point was when I dragged my friends to see the documentary Forks Over Knives.  A world renown Cardiologist, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, and scientist,  Dr. T. Colin Campbell, revealing their latest studies on heart disease, cancer, diabetes and diet.  Caldwell Esselstyn, was President of Staff and Board of Members at the Cleveland Clinic and organized the first ever National Conference of the Elimination of Coronary Artery Disease in 1997.  Read his pedigree it is impressive!  Now he is the director of the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.  His extensive knowledge and his 20-year study revealed the following: 
Dr. Esselstyn argues that conventional cardiology has failed patients by developing treatments that focus only on the symptoms of heart disease, not the cause.
Based on the groundbreaking results of his 20-year nutritional study—the longest study of its kind ever conducted—this book [How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease] explains, with irrefutable scientific evidence, how we can end the heart disease epidemic in this country forever by changing what we eat.

Here, Dr. Esselstyn convincingly argues that a plant-based, oil-free diet can not only prevent and stop the progression of heart disease, but also reverse its effects. 

I read Caldwell’s Books, I read Campbell’s book The China Study, also Caldwell’s son Rip Esselstyn’s book Engine 2 Diet.

Check this out.  Here is a before and after shot from Dr. Caldwell’s book of someone’s artery strangled by hardened plaque and heart disease.  After 32 months of a plant-based diet (no medication), the artery breathes life again, full and healthy.  The plaque may still be there but the artery wall has dilated and widened to allow for sufficient blood flow.

This picture is what impacted me the most.  I decided to try the diet for results and not immediately go on the Prevastatin.  6 months later, my follow up blood test showed my cholesterol lowered from 204 to 160, my LDL went from 87 to 70, and my HDL from 90 to 77, triglycerides at 49.  A major shift with no drugs.  Funny enough my cardiologist said, “good, it looks like the Prevastatin is working”.  I told her I hadn’t started taking it yet.  

For 2 years now I have been following Dr. Esselstyn and Rip Esselstyn’s movement of eating a plant-based diet.  I follow Rip Esselyetyn’s blog and online support community to get recipe ideas and motivation.  Thanks Rip!  I also take 10mg of Prevastatin at night just to fortify my chances of not having a “heart event”.  So far so good I’m 2 years strong with hope that I’m carving a long  life path to enjoy with my friends, family, husband and kids.  

As an added benefit to the diet I’ve also noticed I can run better, my lungs feel clear, from having asthma since I was a kid. I don’t get allergies anymore from all the spring/fall pollen, I feel energized and I lost the last remaining 12lbs. of baby weight after 3 kids.  

The consultant, Lisa, that reads my Berkeley Blood Tests to me every 6 months told me last August 2012 that I had “the blood work of an Olympic athlete”.  I’d like to leave it at just that.

Thank you Rip Esselstyn, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Colin T Campbell for all your research, hard work and outreach.
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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • nancy
    Posted at 17:50h, 14 June

    hi, I am wondering if you have had another heart scan to see if the plaque in your arteries have improved with your plant based diet ??

  • peter
    Posted at 04:03h, 15 June

    An important comment on the effects of this diet. Even in patients where the actual reversal of the plaque deposits may not be all that much, even small improvements are important in vessels that are already mostly blocked. And as well, it’s important to understand that this diet not only removes the mechanism and blood components that allow plaque deposition, but it also causes existing plaque deposits to stabilize, with the membrane cap covering them thickening and becoming much less able to rupture, the mechanism that causes the catastrophic blood clotting of a heart attack. So in effect, in even a short time (as little as six weeks), long before actual reversal of the disease can take place, patients lower their risk of a heart attack to almost nil. That’s why Dr. Esselstyn’s web site is titled “Heartattackproof”. The diet literally makes you heart attack proof. Oh, and I’m followed much the same path as recounted above, though with 45 years of diabetes and already 6 bypass grafts as added motivation (though no definitively known heart attacks). My total cholesterol is down to around 112 (with simvastatin help), I’ve lost 50 lbs, and at 61, feel better than I have in a decade

    • Leah
      Posted at 06:36h, 15 June

      Congratulations! That’s wonderful news! Enjoy feeling awesome! 🙂

  • Karen
    Posted at 10:23h, 15 June

    Wow, in January 2011 at 47 years old, I found out my right artery was 99% blocked. Had angioplasty and like you started doing my own research. I’ve been on Dr. Esselstyn’s plan since August 2011 and my cholesterol and blood pressure are fantastic! Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Ramona Longstreet
    Posted at 10:06h, 16 June

    Angelina Joli’s family history showed a predisposition for breast cancer, so she had a double masectomy. This woman’s family history showed a predisposition for heart disease. Do you think…?

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