The Daily Beet

17 Feb “Instead of having a “fear of dying,” I now focus on the “joy of living.”

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My Story:

First, please let me introduce myself. My name is Milton.  I was born in 1938 on a farm/commercial apple orchard in western North Carolina. After completing college and dental school, I served two years in the US Navy Dental Corps before opening a general dentistry practice.  After forty-six wonderful years in that setting, I had to retire in 2009 due to three open-heart surgeries within nineteen months.  Those surgeries included the repair of my mitral valve, necessitated by progressively worsening leakage over a 6-8 year period.  Following that initial surgery, the buildup of scar tissue, during the healing process, caused the valve to fail again (severe leakage once again) in approximately one year.  At that point another surgery replaced the entire mitral valve with a tissue valve.  The recovery and healing were normal until the 70th day, when I suffered and acute aortic dissection on April 15, 2008.  In spite of my stupid decision to drive myself home from the office, then have my wife drive me to the hospital, a total of about fifty miles, my brilliant surgeon once again performed miraculous surgery…not many people survive an aortic dissection!  This dissection did not damage the mitral valve, but it did destroy my aortic valve and the three previously placed bypasses.  Needless to say, it took a very long surgery to repair/replace all those damaged parts!! The ensuing recovery was long and difficult, but I did recover to practice dentistry again, two days a week, until I could finish the process of retiring on June 30, 2009.

Retirement was short-lived as I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 2010.  The “short version” of that episode was, robotic surgery was performed on August 25, 2010, to remove my prostate.  The surgery went well and the cancer had not spread outside the prostate gland itself, therefore neither radiation or chemotherapy was needed.  Further PSA testing indicates that I am now cancer free.  The irony of all these medical problems is the fact that September 25, 2006, the night of my first heart surgery, was the first night I ever spent in a hospital as a patient…68 years old.

Why have I exposed you to such a detailed description of my health problems in recent years?   Very Simply, I want you to realize that my heart and prostate problems qualified me as the “Poster Boy,” representing the “results” of fifty years of eating the “All American Diet.”  My father died at age 89 from a heart attack and my mother died at age 96 from “old age,” so my genes were indicating a long life for me.  (Ironically, my brother, 5 years younger than me, and who had no evidence of coronary artery disease that he knew of, died suddenly from a fatal heart attack in March, 2009. When this happened, I had a flashback from a Pathology lecture over fifty years ago when I was in dental school.  The professor stated that the first sign of coronary artery disease, in a number of people, is a sudden and fatal heart attack.)  However, there was a difference in the life my parents lived and the life I had lived to that point…diet and lifestyle.  My parents, both omnivorous, lived and worked on the farm and apple orchard most of their lives.  They raised and ate a variety of fruits and vegetables and canned or froze an ample supply to last the family over the winter months.  Living at home, I lived the same as they for the first eighteen years of my life.  Once in college, I then joined the millions of people living a sedentary lifestyle and eating the “All American Diet.”  I, along with those millions of other people, have basically eaten our way into a life of declining health and finally catastrophic illnesses.  I am sure the American Food Industry would vociferously disagree with my logic!

A few months ago I accidentally found a short video on the Internet that changed my life!!  The video was a short segment of an hour-long program which aired on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, “The Last Heart Attack.”  Dr. Gupta was interviewing former President Bill Clinton about his heart problems, treatments, and his new vegan diet.  President Clinton stated the he had read a book which changed his life, The China Study, by T. Colin Caldwell, PhD.  I immediately downloaded that book onto my Kindle and began reading.  I could hardly believe what was written on those pages!  Where had I been? I had never seen any of this material mentioned in any of our ADA Journals.  Why had I not been made aware of the benefits of a plant-based diet during my “rehab sessions” following each of my heart surgeries?

Once I finished reading The China Study, I bought and read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., The Spectrum, by Dean Ornish, M.D., and Engine2 Diet, by Rip Esselstyn.  To finish my “crash course” I watched The Last Heart Attack on CNN and the DVD, Forks over Knives. At that point I felt like I had almost earned a degree in health and nutrition, and was totally convinced that I must change my diet and lifestyle.  Therefore, four+ months ago, I began following Dr. Esselstyn’s eating plan of no meat of any kind , no dairy, no poultry, and very, very little oils, nuts or avocados.  To date I have lost twenty-five pounds, feel much better and have more energy than I have had in a couple of years.  I can hardly wait until the next appointment with my Cardiologist, in a couple of months, to see the results of my blood work.  My previous blood work was completed one week before I started this new way of eating.

Knowing that God spared my life for a reason, I am committed to helping others avoid the road I traveled over the last 55 years. To that end, I started a Blog, healthyheartveganliving.com, this past December which teaches how plant-based eating can determine your placement or ranking on the “spectrum” of health vs. disease, mainly in the areas of Heart Health, Type II Diabetes and some forms of Cancer.  In this Blog I plan to cover a variety of topics from: plant-based eating (along with recipes), exercise, stress management through relaxation and meditation, share peer-reviewed research papers by world renowned scientists who have been researching this subject for 40+ years, etc. etc.  Also, I want to talk about the fears and uncertainties that very frequently “nag” those of us who have had any type of cardiac episode, especially those who have had heart attacks and/or open-heart surgery.  I welcome comments, but not heated debate, which can be aired more appropriately in other venues.  Initially, I plan to have a new post every couple of weeks, but that can change as interest, comments and questions dictate.  Instead of having a “fear of dying,” I now focus on the “joy of living.”

Milton V. Massey, DDS

Thank you so much for sharing your story Milton! Do you have a story to share? Please contact us at: engine2family@gmail.com

And please leave some plan-strong encouragement in the comments for Milton!

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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!

  • Kate
    Posted at 10:23h, 17 February

    I’m so glad your first symptom was not the same as your brother’s. I’ll go to your blog and enjoy your great attitude. I have found some great healing in my circulatory, digestive system, nervous system, and so forth over the last 2.5 years of plant strong living. However, I think my greatest healing has come in the form of a changed view of the world. Like you I want to explore the joys of living.

  • Sharon Miller
    Posted at 11:48h, 17 February

    Milton, I too first discovered this new way of life via the same video, only mine was an unusual way – I turned CNN on, on a Sunday (8/28/11)- a night I usually NEVER watch TV let alone CNN, something just moved me to that channel & saw the “Last Heart Attack”, at age 58 & recently told I had Afib & looking at my family history – I too knew I needed to make a change. The next morning I woke up & said that was it. I bought Dr. Esselstyn’s book (and the others you listed) and I haven’t looked back. Just keep going, (I say this to myself every morning). God Speed,

    • Frank
      Posted at 12:48h, 17 February

      I too had the same reaction to watching this documentary on exactly the same night. I’m newly turned 48 and was 50lbs overweight. Six months later, I’ve lost 35lbs and on my way to losing the last 15. My internist was skeptical but now is a believer! I’m off all bp meds and statins and am about ready to let go of the CPAP machine, as I’m increasingly not needing it anymore.

      I am forever in Dr. E’s and Rip’s debt for their tireless evangelism. I am hoping that our growing numbers will force the grocery and restaurant industries to begin to shift to offer vegan and “E2-compliant” meals. If not, I plan to open one!

      • Rob Seiwert
        Posted at 14:08h, 17 February

        I too owe my eye opening to that CNN story the same night. My only difference was that I was watching from a hospital bed. I too was amazed that I had never been told this by my Dr or Cardiologist. They suggested cutting out red meat and excercise but a plant based diet wasn’t something anyone even suggested.

  • Camille Olsen
    Posted at 12:33h, 17 February

    Milton, my brother also died of a heart attack, with no previous history, at age 42 — after of a life of abusing his body with our Western diet and lifestyle. I am so motivated by his memory as I’m sure you are by your brother’s. Congratulations on your changes and your exciting plans!

  • James Massey
    Posted at 13:13h, 17 February

    Dad, I just wanted to chime in, and mention that nothing we do effects only ourselves. When you take care of yourselves and your health, it is one of greatest gifts you can give to the people that Love you. As someone who faced losing my Dad, and am lucky enough to still have him, I encourage everyone to do anything they can to maximize their healthy living, both for themselves and for the people that Love them. I and the rest of your family Love you very very much, and we are all so thankful that you are still with us… Jimmy

  • Jamie
    Posted at 14:31h, 17 February

    Milton! Thanks for sharing your story. I have a family member born in 1930 that says she is too old to change…now if only I could get her to read your blog!

  • Pat
    Posted at 14:59h, 17 February

    You can still watch CNN’s The Last Heart Attack online here: The Last Heart Attack

  • Klynn Jensen
    Posted at 15:35h, 18 February

    Way to go! What a great outlook. Being a glass-half-full kind of gal I live my life with no regrets. And everyday is a new day. Keep up the good work. My husband and I have been plant-strong since November and loving it. We’ve been doing a lot of it for 30 years but all the same books and DVDs helped us tweak that last bit we needed. We are so excited discovering new foods and recipes. I’m sharing on Facebook and a few friends have shown interest. My mom had untreated high blood pressure and died of a stroke. I have migraines and know I will have to do something about bp too. Since adopting E2 diet my pants are getting baggy, belts on last hole and pounding heart in the morning is gone. We can’t always put it in words but my husband and I just feel so much better. And we are so happy to be a part of this new found family. Welcome to the family!

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