17 Feb “Instead of having a “fear of dying,” I now focus on the “joy of living.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
And please leave some plan-strong encouragement in the comments for Milton!