This is the text of my first presentation at Twyla's Class.
Plant Based Lifestyle Seminar 4/20/2018 Renaissance Society, Sacramento State University
My name is Al Schmidt, I am 82 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 1985, 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. 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 had an angiogram and was told I needed a 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 had a weakness for sweets.
As time went on I had some irregular pulse problems, 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, with no effect on my symptoms.
In 2014 I started having shortness of breath and chest pains while walking and going up and down stairs. I started taking Imdur (time release Nitro) 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, 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.
So in 2016 right after my 80 th birthday it was not a surprise when I could not walk even even short distances and climb stairs without getting angina. I tried adjusting. I spent $10,000 installing stair lifts in my house, gave up walking up stairs.
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.
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.
At this point I was suffering from severe side effects, extreme dizziness, weakness, disorientation, and falling down. I was also suffering from constipation, insomnia and advanced 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 poop in a wheel rut.
While generating this presentation I came across a notebook that I was using at the time, May 2016. I was keeping a diary of my medical events. Here are three pages. I have circled the word pain in red, just to give you an idea of my condition.
Then I found a TO DO list I had made, note the red circled item:
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.
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.
Having seen a lot of my own angiograms, this illustration spoke to me. Blockage can be reversed through diet!
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? I had peace with my maker.
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, 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.)
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.
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!
Here is a Picture of me in Paris with frequent chest pains vs me 18 months later.
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 too fast.
My kidney function went from 40% down to normal.
I have much more energy. I go out and do all the little fix-it chores that I had been neglecting before. I went from low energy to high energy for my age.
I don’t get those ugly looking bruise marks on my arms and hands any more.
I had dark blue skin on my ankles which went away after 11 months.
Swollen left foot the result of 1985 bypass.
My PSA was 7 in my early 70’s. At Dr. McDougalls’s I had it tested 3.8
Increase in Mental Acuity
No more ambulance rides.
In January of 2017 I had an appointment with my cardiologist,
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!
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.
ABOUT THE SCIENCE OF A WHOLE FOOD PLANT BASED DIET
In 1985 Dr Caldwell Esselstyn started a study using this diet because “three-quarters of the humans on this planet had no heart disease, a fact strongly associated with diet.” He started with 23 patients who were cardiac cripples, like me. Six dropped out, and of the remaining 18 there was only one coronary event in the following 11 years. That was from a patient who had strayed from the diet for two years and experienced angina. Twenty years later all of the 18 patients were still alive.
According to CNN, this is the diet that President Clinton used after talking with Dr Esselstyn and Dr Dean Ornish. He said that he had researched this diet and it worked to reverse coronary artery disease 82% of the time. In my case it was 100%.
In 1990 Dr. Dean Ornish published study titled Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? in the LANCET. Let me read you the last two sentences from the Abstract.
Overall, 82% of experimental-group patients had an average change towards regression. Comprehensive lifestyle changes may be able to bring about regression of even severe coronary atherosclerosis after only 1 year, without use of lipid-lowering drugs.
Dr John McDougall has published 10 books on Diet and Nutrition. Started his practice in the big island of Hawaii. His patients were immigrants from China and the Philippines. He had three generations. The first generation ate the traditional Asian diet of rice and vegetables were trim, fit and not not affected by chronic diseases. The second and third generation had fully adopted to the standard American diet suffered from obesity, diabetes and a whole host of chronic diseases. This started his interest in a whole food plant based lifestyle.
Dr Michael Greger author of How Not to Die, publishes short 2-3 minute informative videos daily where he shows the results of published studies on various subjects, such as smoothies and “Which are better: Flax seeds or Chia seeds. They are brief and well researched. His website is NutritionFacts.org.
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 really value what I consider, my new life.
So what is MY “Whole Food Plant Diet”?
After 3 or 4 weeks you get over fat and you start to appreciate subtle and savory flavors. I enjoy the food and do not feel deprived. I eat as much as I want and enjoy every meal. I love the food I eat.
I was now able to travel and I flew back to Milwaukee to visit my grandniece who’s wedding I missed. Then I went to the Nevada desert for a week in my trailer. We were near Tonopah NV which is at 6,000 ft. I had no problems! August I am planning to take my 82 year old body, in my 16 year old truck, towing my 26 year old trailer on a road trip to Wisconsin, to visit my nieces.
For me this biggest benefit of this diet is my sense of well being. I know I’m still 82 with all the creaks and groans of this old body, but now when ever I get an ache or sharp pain for no apparent reason, I don’t just automatically assume that it’s fatal. And by the way I have considerably less aches and pains. The 22 months that I have been on this diet is the longest period of time in the last 12 years that I have not been to the ER.
“It is not how long I live, it is how well I live.”
In August 2017 I went to Dr. McDougalls 10 day live in whole food plant based program located in Santa Rosa California. The McDougall Program is all about giving you control over your health. Most participants are able to stop all unnecessary medications, avoid surgery, improve their appearance and regain lost fitness. Sick people see doctors, healthy people don’t. Their goal is to make you healthy.
There were 55 attendees. 5 were from England, 3 from Australia, 2 from south Africa, and one from India. There were people that had high blood pressure and Diabetes, three that has MS. The gal that sat next to me had very serious kidney problems. She had placed her name on the transplant list. My Kidney story piqued her interest, and gave her hope. The first day they drew blood and weighed us. They did that halfway through, and then again at the end. We were housed at a very nice resort and spa in Santa Rosa. All meals were provided and we could eat as much as we desired. The first half I grossly overate. I tried to sample everything and at the second weigh in I had gained 2 pounds. I cut back to my normal portion size and at the last weigh in I had returned to my 150 lbs.
Right after I got back from McDougall’s program I noticed something different about my left ankle and foot. They were NORMAL. In 1985 when I had bypass surgery they had striped a vein from my left leg. After a while my left ankle and foot began to swell, and in my 70’s it was very noticeable. It was just something I put up with. This was the second improvement that I had noticed on my body.
About 4 months earlier I noticed that my Livedo Reticulitis on both ankles go away. That’s were the blood in my ankles just pools and does not return. I takes on a dark blueish tint. Looks like a bruise, except it does not go away. I had symptoms of Liveo Reticulitis for over 3 years! While not painful or noticeable, as long as I wore socks, it was a constant reminder of old age. If I needed a reminder (which I didn’t) to stay on the diet, here were two.
Then in September 2017 my wife Dottie and I went on the First Ever All Vegan Ocean Cruise.
The first night over a couple glasses of wine, I shared my story to entertain the dinner table. One of the table mates mentioned that she wished her brother could have heard me. He was in bad shape with heart problems. She asked me for contact information, and sure enough I received an email from him in November 2017. I sent him an earlier version of this document.
A few words about the Cruise. Before we boarded, I mentioned to my wife that I thought we would not see any fat people on a Vegan Cruise. Boy were we wrong. Then on the cruise I found out why. They use oil on everything. The big item in the gift shop was all the different flavored Olive Oil. My wife and I went to a cooking class and the chef had 4 different flavored Olive Oil bottles on the table. At this point I got up and walked out. In my never to be humble opinion Vegans do not eat healthy. They sure did not on this cruise. In case you haven’t figured it out, oil (or rather fat) is your enemy.
I met some of the most interesting people on the cruise. An orthodontist who for long time had been having kidney stones every couple of years. They were extremely painful, so he tried Whole Food Plant Based Diet. Since then he lost 30 pounds, Cholesterol came down and he has had no kidney stones.
We had lunch with a fellow who was a very successful engineer. When he was 35 his brother died from Diabetes. His father had died young from Diabetes. So he did some research and decided that the way to go was on a Whole Food Plant Based Diet. He was so impressed with the results that he gave up his flourishing engineer career and earned a degree as a dietitian. He is now writing a book as means to spread the benefits of a Whole Food Plant Based Diet.
Then there was a Texas woman who had breast cancer. Had her breasts removed, but she was concerned that even after the operation, she knew that there were rogue cancer cells lurking somewhere in her body. So she also started on a Whole Food Plant Based Diet as a preventive measure. She and I hit it off, because we both started our diets at the same time, and because we were in about the same place in our journey.
I have become super conscientious. As I said before, I made such an incredible reversal of my symptoms, that I was fearful that it could change back for the worse just as quick. Was it easy? No. But it is becoming easier as time goes on. Was it rewarding? Yes! Was it worth it? Absolutely. It is not how long I live, it is how well I live.
Right after I first got on the diet and had my fantastic results I went to Amazon and ordered a dozen of each of the books and gave them to friends and family. Well almost all of them just sat on bookshelves and gathered dust. I mentioned that to a nurse once and she reminded me of an old saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. After about a year and a half, I have decided that my experience won’t be meaningful to someone unless they are ready to listen. While the benefits are wonderful, it was the hardest thing that I have done in my life. BUT I DID IT!!
Now I was healthy. I could resume regular physical activities and live a normal lifestyle and yet I felt like an outsider. Then I had a small epiphany. I had a wonderful lunch with some of my new WFPBD friends. I left the lunch in an almost euphoric high. I didn’t quite understand why I felt so good, but I did, and every time I was around any of my new WFPBD friends I always felt great.
The next morning I get up and listen to a talk show in the shower, as I do every morning. The radio show was running a campaign to raise money for Warrior Foundation – Freedom Station. This was a charity to support our wounded vets. They had a segment on how important it was for these vets to play and talk with other wounded vets. Because they felt that no one else could understand what they had gone through. That’s when it hit me. All of my old friends, had no idea of what I have been through. I knew that they had not known or seen how disabled I was. But that was not what bothered me. It was my decision, the journey, the experience, the dedication of going on, staying on, and benefiting from the WFPBD. The hours, days, and weeks of learning what, when and how to eat. The watching with almost disbelief my body healing itself. They had no knowledge, or understanding of any of this. They did not know or understand how close to death I came. Of course my “new” friends do not know that either, but they do understand how difficult it is to go on a WFPBD. What it takes to make the commitment to change your lifestyle, and to follow through for months and years. Just being with them is very affirming.
All of my old friends think that I have gone off the deep end. They think I talk too much about what I eat and my new lifestyle. What they don’t understand is that if I had not chosen this lifestyle, I WOULD have gone off the deep end, if you catch my drift.
In November 2017 I attended a presentation by Rubin Guzman. Rubin made the point that if you examine your five closest friends, the probability is very high that you will be like them and have similar traits and values. Well that was fine pre – WFPBD, but now, not so much. I set out to meet new people and change my friends by joining several MeetUps groups for whole food plant based eaters. I have attempted to find the most interesting people that I could.
By the end of December I had a birthday party. I had a dinner at Pho Fresh for 20 people, all WFPBNO. That is not as impressive as it sounds, if you consider I paid for everyone’s dinner.
So this is my story, as my story so far. It is a journey, one that if find interesting and rewarding. Because of my lifestyle I can enjoy this journey in good health and I expect it go on for quite some time.
As Twla (the instructor) says, “You are not too old to go plant based.” Will it be easy? NO. Will it be rewarding? ABSOLUTELY. If you now have a chronic illness, overweight, pre-diabetes, do it NOW. Even if you think your are in good health, you will be surprised with your body’s improvements. Your body will let you know you are doing the right thing. Remember it has an amazing ability to heal it’s self, if you just let it.
Health is like money, you don’t appreciate it until you don’t have it.