The plant based nurse

My family's excellent adventure to better health!


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 with the tallest man skeleton at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia

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Glad to be part of Gary’s gang!

It has been a little quiet at the lately. I have not been feeling terribly inspired as our focus has been on a wonderful member of our family who has been diagnosed with recurrent lung cancer, my father-in-law, Gary.

Gary was diagnosed with lung cancer 3 ½ years ago in the left lung and had the upper lobe of the left lung removed and was declared cancer free. He has been very compliant with all of his medical follow up, quit smoking for good when he had bypass surgery and was very surprised to find the cancer had returned in his right lung.

We are amazed at his positive attitude and his determination to get on with his treatment and do the best he can to beat yet another major health hurdle. He has a fabulous sense of humor and we are enjoying his daily texts in the a.m. which often include the weather report, an update about his sleep, encouragement for our day and a funny quip or joke. Here’s one my husband saved from one of his very early morning texts while still in the hospital:

Ok, it’s 5:30-ever’body up! I can’t sleep-must be layin’ aroun’ too much. Coffee, coffee, where’s the coffee? No problem it’ll be here about 8. Maybe I’ll bug the nurses. Not a good idea-I definitely want to stay on their good side. Ok, I’ll read. See youz later.  

Weather report-16.4 (yes, .4) now, high of 32 (heat wave-ohh, reminds me of a song), rain tomorrow (what? Rain? Really? Yep, really. Get your rubbers out.) Now, to a commercial. Fritos, Fritos, buy more Fritos. Now, back to the news. The bastards, the bastards, they took more of blood! Damn it! He did say I’m the first one up.”

We are also so touched and not a bit surprised by the love and support from his wife Carolyn. They are madly in love and I tell everyone that she is the best private duty nurse. She took fabulous care of her mother and she is a loving and compassionate person.

The thing we keep hearing from Gary, Carolyn and the whole family is that support is essential. They are not asking for medical advice, just good old fashioned love and support. So, in support of Gary’s journey, his brother-in-law’s wife, Sharon, started a Facebook page called Gary’s gang. They have asked all who join his gang to send a picture of him or herself saying “Grrrr” to his cancer. It has been great to see all of his family and friends adding to the Grrrr photos, even his granddog, Vinny, an Italian greyhound adopted by my sister-in-law Laura who wins the prize so far for the scariest Grrrr!


So, if you feel so inclined, stop by Gary’s gang and say Grrrrr to lung cancer!