The plant based nurse

My family's excellent adventure to better health!


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Meet Mike: An unintentional self study in health and wellness!

Meet our friend, Mike Vasey! We met Mike and his wife over 30 years ago when my husband was a student at Penn State University. We reconnected recently online and much to our surprise, we had both stumbled upon the news that plant-based eating can not only prevent, but also reverse many chronic illnesses. As a university professor and critical thinker, Mike was attracted to the science behind the positive effects of a plant-based diet.
Hear Mike’s story in his own words:
One problem with the many positive testimonials regarding the health impact of a plant-based diet is that one cannot be completely confident the dietary change was the cause of the improved health. Don’t get me wrong, I find it pretty compelling when longstanding conditions change when diet changes. But one still lacks a hypothetical counter factual – a way of estimating how the person would have done without the dietary change. That’s where controlled experiments come in. One way to add a hypothetical counterfactual is to reverse the change to see if weight, cholesterol, etc. go back to where they were before one started. Then one can re-institute the dietary change and see if things improve again. That is known as an ABAB single-subject research design (A = baseline, B = intervention).
Unintentionally, over the past five years I have done such a reversal study on myself regarding the impact of a plant-based diet with no added oil. Five years ago I chanced upon a local broadcast of a talk by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. on reversing and preventing heart disease with diet. I have a strong family history of heart disease – my father had at least five heart attacks – so the topic piqued my interest. I found Dr. Esselstyn’s data compelling so I decided to give it a try. At the time my total cholesterol was 200 (it had reached a high of 237 some years earlier, which prompted some improvement in my eating habits [translation: I ate less sausage and similar things]). My weight was about 208. I am about 6′ 2″ so my BMI was 26.7.
With very rare exceptions I was successful in following the Esselstyn diet. It took about six weeks before I found it to no longer be a challenge. By then, I had identified things I liked to eat and had modified recipes to be oil free. It helped that I tend to eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day so once I had those two meals figured out (oatmeal with bananas and dried cranberries for breakfast, a big salad for lunch) only supper was an issue. I tended to cook a few one dish meals (e.g., lots of soups) on the weekend and eat them during the week. Between meals I snacked on fruit and veggies.
Based on Esselstyn’s book , I expected things to change fairly quickly and mostly they did. I was on two blood pressure medicines at the time, mostly to control cluster headaches but also due to mild hypertension. Within two weeks of eliminating oil from my diet my blood pressure dropped to the point that I was light headed when I stood up. With my doctor’s consent I dropped the med that was unrelated to cluster headaches and things went back to normal. Simultaneously I started losing weight. After one month my weight was 196 (BMI = 25.2) but my total cholesterol hadn’t changed much, dropping only to 180. After six months I had lost 27 pounds to 181 (BMI = 23.2) so I expected my cholesterol would follow suit. However, when I completed a biometric screening for work at the six month mark, my cholesterol was still 180. That was a bit discouraging since my goal was to get it below 150, the threshold below which nobody in the Framingham Heart Study had a heart attack. But I kept at it and after a year and a half my total cholesterol was 154, which was very near my goal. And my weight was down to 172 (BMI = 22.1). Eventually my weight bottomed out at 170 (BMI = 21.😎) and my total cholesterol stayed below 130.
Then about 18-months ago, I went through a prolonged stressful period and I got lazy regarding my diet. I essentially went back to baseline in terms of my diet. I tended to eat whatever was easiest and that was often something processed and high in fat. Predictably, my weight went up until it was 196 (BMI = 25.2) at my annual biometric screening on 9/12/16 and my total cholesterol was back up to 198. Added to that, my A1C was 6.1, which is borderline diabetic and diabetes is something else that runs in my family. Needless to say, those numbers got my attention. So I immediately went back to the all plant-based, no added oil diet. After nearly five weeks I had my blood work redone by my doctor. My total cholesterol had dropped by 27 points to 171, my weight was 188 (BMI = 24.1), and my A1C was down to 5.5, which is still high but in the normal range.
Between then and now (12/26/16) I spent a week in Belgium and while eating plant-based was mostly possible (hey, beer is plant-based!), forget the no added oil part. We also had Thanksgiving and Christmas and I must admit to straying a bit with all the holiday goodies around the house (my family does not follow my diet and that can be challenging at times). Nevertheless, my weight is now down to 182 (BMI = 23.4) and I expect it to keep dropping. I’m sure my cholesterol and blood sugar will follow suit. I’m glad to be back on a healthy path.
 mike-vasey
Mike with the tallest man skeleton at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia
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Meet Debbie! “I don’t want to be in that stent club.”

I met Debbie in August of 2015 at a plant-based potluck I attend in Tunkhannock, PA. She had been invited by her friend and chiropractor, Virginia Fennelly, who was encouraging her to improve her diet and her lifestyle. Debbie had a long rap sheet of health problems and was making  great strides to shorten that list.

In 2014, Debbie saw her primary MD and discussed her concern about her family history of heart disease. She passed all of the screening tests, but her cholesterol was elevated at 200 and she had an uneasy feeling that something wasn’t quite right. When she saw the cardiologist, she was getting ready to leave when she mentioned that she had been getting short of breath climbing stairs. The cardiologist decided Debbie needed a cardiac catheterization and found a major blockage. He was able to perform a stent to relieve the blockage and restore blood flow.  Like most, Debbie thought her heart problem was fixed but she was frustrated that she had to take 40 mg of a statin as her cholesterol was still elevated.

Debbie had always steered clear of fast food and drive through windows, cooked her own food, and cultivated veggies in her garden. She had the tools she needed to make changes along with a strong desire to reverse her heart disease and lower her cholesterol. When Debbie told me she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t improve her numbers, the confidence of Dr. Esselstyn  came over me and I urged Debbie to to go all in, to go 100% plant-based, as dramatic changes can lead to dramatic and wonderful health improvements. I explained that she might see small improvements making gradual changes, but that the best and most exciting  things can happen when we make the biggest changes. I didn’t know Debbie and kept waiting for her to tell me to stop babbling, but she listened patiently while I asked her to look up Dr. Esselstyn on Youtube, grab a copy of his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and if she could afford it, a copy of The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook, and come back in a month and let me know how she was doing with plant-based living.

Debbie took my scribbled notes, went home and went in 100%! She came back the next month to the plant-based pot luck and when I asked her how she was doing, she told me that she was following Dr. Esselstyn’s plan and she had already lost 20 lbs and felt great! At her primary MD appointment 3 months into her lifestyle change, she told the doctor she had lost 50 lbs and she looked at her skeptically and told her to get on the scale. She was blown away by Debbie’s results. It has now been 10 months since Debbie and I met and she has lost over 50 lbs, lowered her cholesterol to 148, her triglycerides to 137 and reduced her statin to 20 mg. Her next check up is in 2 months and she is hoping to get permission to ditch the statin!

Beyond improving her numbers, Debbie is feeling fantastic! She has noticed her energy level has greatly improved and she is saving money on her grocery bills. She says the standard American diet “sure wasn’t cheaper because that stent cost $100,000.” She also noticed that “there is no vegetable that I’m paying $7.99/lb for!” She tells people that eating more fruits and veggies can be more expensive if you’re adding them to the already expensive meat and dairy, but once you ditch those expensive items, it all works out. She is excited she was able to give up dairy as she felt it was her enemy. She remembers going to her father’s home after he died and seeing the empty milk carton right next to his heartburn medication and recently realized her heartburn has completely gone!

Debbie has become an advocate for the plant-based lifestyle and sets a great example of health and vitality for her family and friends. She is saddened when she hears people sharing how many stents they have with one another. She wants them to know that they can prevent risky, expensive procedures just by making some simple changes to their diets.

Finally, Debbie says, “I think it’s the way to go because I don’t want to be in that stent club!”

If you’d like permission to go all in, improve your energy, and most importantly, stay out of the stent club, just do it! Then come back here and let us know how you did it and how you’re doing!

Remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!


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Drumroll please!..Meet Lanny Hoggatt, another plant-based rock star!

I “met” Lanny online at Engine2extra and he has been a great inspiration not only to many on the web site, but in his hometown and at his church. Despite his health problems from years of SAD eating, he is turning his health around and helping his family to make health improvements in the process. He recently started purchasing Forks over Knives books to handout for free to friends who need help turning their health around and he is enrolled in Rouxbe cooking school! Here is Lanny’s story, in his own words.

Jean I would love to share my story. Like most people I was on the SAD (Standard American Diet) and I became morbidly obese and became a diabetic. Then I went to see a psychiatrist because I was depressed they started giving me different meds. One of them had an adverse reaction with my diabetes and I ended up with super insulin resistance. My sugars ranged between 400 to 500 everyday for 10 years. I have a lot of diabetes problems because of it.

In 2010 I had a minor heart attack and my cardiologist told me that I had blockages. Then in all of 2014 I started having angina attacks and around October 2014 they were getting regular everyday especially after meals. Around the 1st of December I was sitting on the foot of my bed and started to have a real bad one and could not breathe. The pain ran threw my back and down my right arm but I managed to get it to stop with Nitro but I knew I was in trouble. On December 3, 2014 I went to the church and asked a brethren to pray for me. That evening I came across a movie called Forks Over Knives Streaming on Netflix and it changed my life. I looked at my dad and said Wow!!  Even the medicine bottles they showed in the movie were the same ones we were taking. I went on and discovered the Engine 2 Diet I’ve been on this diet now for about 7 months.

Since I’ve been 100% whole food plant-based diet now, no meat no dairy and no oils, my diabetes numbers are now running at normal levels I have a lot more energy. I’ve had to cut my insulin down from 300 units a day to 80 units a day and that’s just in the morning. My angina attacks went away my blood pressure is down to normal range. On the top all that off I have lost over 50 pounds 🙂

My Dad, was a lot worse than I was. In 2000 he had a heart attack and they did a triple bypass surgery and he started into renal failure. In June 2014 his renal labs came in very bad. His GFR was at 28 the doctor told him to go and have a shunt put in his arm for dialysis and the cardiologist told him that he could not have it done because his heart was too weak. Then in September 2014 dad was hospitalized and his heart function dropped to 25%. Wow. that was bad. Since dad and I started on this 100% whole food plant-based diet all of our doctors are amazed. Dad’s renal labs have improved and his GFR went from 28 to 37. The renal Dr. was asking all kinds of questions so I told him about Forks Over Knives and he went home and watched the movie.

Then his cardiologist was excited that Dad’s heart function jumped from 25% to 47%. He said wow! You have lost a significant amount of weight your color is back and he also wanted to know about the diet. They ran tests on him all the fluid around his heart is gone and the water retention is gone .I have to say it’s quite an improvement in 7 months 🙂 And to top it all off he lost 30 pounds also. 🙂

Lanny and his dad

Way to go Lanny! If you have a plant based success story you would like me to share, please let me know! It keeps me motivated to continue my own journey and keep sharing the good news!

Remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!


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Meet Bonnie, my plant based wonder sister!

I’m excited to share my sister Bonnie’s story with you. She is a real success, not just because she has done a great job incorporating delicious plant based foods into her life and that of her family, but because she is a success as a loving and giving human being.

Bonnie and I were separated when I was five months old. Our mother, Ruth who was very ill when I was born, died of cancer and our father couldn’t work and take care of four children and an infant.

Ruth Hastie

Ruth Hastie, 1923-1962

My father’s brother, Gilbert and his wife, Mary came to Michigan to bring me back to Pennsylvania to care for me. Over a year later, the family returned to Pennsylvania with the plan to reunite. I have been told that my Aunt who had been raising me as her own could not bear to give me up and my father let me stay with the understanding that I would not be adopted. I would also be told about my family and would visit my brothers and sisters. As we grew up, we visited occasionally, but Bonnie and I never had the opportunity to really know each other as sisters.

While in nursing school in 1984, I was caring for two patients with melanoma and studying about this deadly form of skin cancer. I thought I was being a hypochondriac when I noticed a mole on my upper back that looked darker than I remembered. I went to speak to my nursing instructor to calm my fears. Instead, she told me to march right over to the dermatology clinic after she showed me her scar from a melanoma excision. After I received word that my mole was melanoma, I called my birth mother’s oldest sister Jeanette to see what kind of cancer my mother had. She told me my mother had melanoma and that she had also had one. Soon after, I went to visit my sister Bonnie and her husband Craig and asked her if she had any moles that had changed. She lifted her shirt and showed me a large mole on her chest and I remember being very upset as it looked like one I had seen in a textbook. It was shaped like a butterfly, had irregular edges, and was not uniform in color. She told me she had been watching it and thought it was fine. I urged her to please get it checked and left hoping she would. I also found out she had our mother’s death certificate which showed that the melanoma on her leg had spread to her brain and liver.

Months later, Bonnie finally went to have her mole checked and unfortunately, it was also a melanoma. We were both fortunate that we caught these lesions before they spread to our lymph nodes or organs and since that time, we have each had a total of 6 melanomas. We also discovered that there have been 14 other family members with melanoma. We learned that in about 10% of melanomas, there is a genetic component and that in our case, we had a dominant gene which means our children have a 50/50 chance of having melanoma.

Bonnie and I kept in touch while I was away at nursing school and then when I married and moved away for 4 years, but when I moved back home when my son was 18 months old, we finally were able to get to know one another better and be sisters. Bonnie helped watch my kids when my husband and I had to work on weekends and her youngest daughter and my daughter spent a lot of time growing up together and loving one another like sisters and fighting like sisters too. We worked with the youth of our church and church conference together and went on church youth retreats together. Bonnie is a woman of tireless energy, from making her own wedding gown to working her way through junior college, then earning her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree while raising a family and working full time. She continues to work long hours at a major financial corporation managing things I don’t understand and compassionately managing many employees.

Bonnie and Craig

Bonnie and Craig

Bonnie has always been health conscious and I don’t ever remember her ever being overweight. She has been cooking without oil for quite some time to reduce fat in her family’s diet and she used to go to aerobics after work to stay active. We had a terrible scare a few years ago when she had to have a hysterectomy for a very large benign ovarian growth. I will never forget the phone call from my brother in law that she had to be taken back to the operating room after surgery for hemorrhaging. After a second surgery and 4 units of blood, she was very weak and took quite some time to gain her strength back from this “routine” surgery. She scared us again a couple of years ago when she developed neurologic symptoms and had to be hospitalized. She has been diagnosed with autoimmune illness, most likely lupus and possibly Lyme disease also as she has had multiple tick bites. It has been very hard to see the healthiest one in the family have all of these problems.

After I watched Forks over Knives and told Bonnie about my newfound excitement about plant based eating, I think she thought I had lost my mind. Her daughters Danielle and Erica were already vegetarian and she was not convinced this was a healthy way to eat. She had always been thin, but had gained some weight that we were attributing to the medication she was on for lupus. When she saw our family losing weight, she decided to try it out and her oldest daughter Amanda joined her in trying some recipes. I remember being surprised when she texted me to say she was going to the store to buy “rabbit food” and wanted to know what to do with this kale stuff.

Before I knew it, Bonnie was making up her own recipes, especially delicious veggie soups like creamy potato soup and hearty veggie stew. The weight quickly melted off and her pants were soon falling down! Her daughter Amanda also lost the last of her baby weight from her second pregnancy and her sons love all sorts of veggies and tell us their favorite meal is salad! She gives them wonderfully healthy meals and snacks and she proves that kids will eat what you teach them to eat and if you keep offering them healthy food, they will learn to love it. Bonnie is the best grandma ever and the boys call her “Bon Bon” since she looks and acts way too young to be called Grandma. She has a heart of gold and will help anyone in need if she can. She visits the patients at our local state hospital for those with mental illness with a group at our church, has taken in family members and friends to stay in her home when there was a need and helps with no judgment or expectation of anything in return. She is also a star volunteer at our yearly mission trip to Appalachia to repair homes to make them warmer, drier, and safer. She can work a drill and a hammer as well as she can run a sewing machine.

Bonnie and I in Appalachia doing home repairs

Bonnie and I in Appalachia

Plant based eating has not eliminated all of my sister’s health challenges, but we both feel that since we have outlived our mother and are still here in our 50s, maybe we need to do whatever we can to be as healthy and independent as we can for as long as we can. We also have hope because of the work of people like Dean Ornish MD and T. Colin Campbell that our genes are not our destiny. We once felt resigned to the fact that we would die an early death from the cancer that took our mother and now we have hope that we may be fortunate enough to live a normal lifespan and enjoy watching our children grow into wonderful adults and even enjoy grandchildren. I’m so glad she joined us in this journey!

Bon Bon, Amanda, Dylan and Devin

Bon Bon, Amanda, Dylan and Devin

Bonnie's family

Four generations