Heart Disease: Entering a New Country

Bill often said he felt like he was in a new country when he began to eat a Heart Healthy diet. The shock has finally subsided since he learned he had heart disease and Metabolic Syndrome on December 15, 2016, details here in case you missed it. Thankfully, Bill is a strong-willed person. When he decides he is going to do something, he does it, and usually in a big way.  He learned to accept it, written about here, and decided he would do whatever he had to do to overcome any obstacles that might hinder his lifestyle. The next step he had to go through was to decide how to live with it, written here.

Now let’s fast forward to April 11, 2017. The day finally arrived for us to meet again with Dr. Jeffrey Askew. I was very positive, but Bill’s nature was to be reserved and apprehensive. It’s a family trait! Well, drum roll….


A very happy doctor visit! Bill with Dr. Jeffrey Askew. The doctor joked they should stand by the Metabolic Syndrome poster! It is peaking out behind them.

….It went GREAT!!! His numbers were so good, it was really hard for the Doctor to believe! Most of our office visit was him listening to what Bill did.

First, Bill lost 40 pounds! That was never a goal and it wasn’t hard to do. In fact, we are having a hard time getting enough calories in him to stop losing weight. Initially, the weight was just dropping off of us both – Bill is the chef – I just eat what he cooks. I managed to lose 20 pounds just by modifying how we eat. We are back to what we weighed 20 years ago.

Metabolic Syndrome Poster

Poster hanging in the examination room. While Bill may not have been quite this overweight, his numbers and heart scan showed he had this syndrome. GREAT news is that it can be conquered. Sadly, though, the damage has been done to his arteries. 

His blood pressure, etc. was also just great. I went for my yearly check up and mine was also good. Oh how wonderful I am reaping such great benefits by walking along side Bill in this journey~

Fortunately, Bill’s bother, David, already went down the path of changing how he ate. He was also given a life or death decision: radically change your diet or you won’t be around much longer. His wife, Linda, is VERY resourceful and they turned to Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease Program.  Here is an excerpt from his book:

A groundbreaking program backed by the irrefutable results from Dr. Esselstyn’s 20-year study proving changes in diet and nutrition can actually cure heart disease

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women. But, as Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., a former internationally known surgeon, researcher and clinician at the Cleveland Clinic, explains in this book it can be prevented, reversed, and even abolished. Dr. Esselstyn argues that conventional cardiology has failed patients by developing treatments that focus only on the symptoms of heart disease, not the cause.

Based on the groundbreaking results of his 20-year nutritional study—the longest study of its kind ever conducted—this book explains, with irrefutable scientific evidence, how we can end the heart disease epidemic in this country forever by changing what we eat.

Here, Dr. Esselstyn convincingly argues that a plant-based, oil-free diet can not only prevent and stop the progression of heart disease, but also reverse its effects.

They pretty much followed it to the letter, which Dr. Askew warned us was going to be difficult. In fact, David followed it for eight months and lost 50 pounds. It was an amazing transformation for him. BUT David’s triglycerides went sky-high (higher than when he had his heart attack), it was too many carbs and very low protein. The arguments by the doctor is that we do not need as much protein as is pushed now with the Paleo and Atkins diet. This taught Bill that he had to come up with a diet plan he could live with the rest of his life. They ended up modifying how they eat and David continues to keep his weight off and has good numbers. They shared what they did, so we began to fall in line with it.

What were we doing right? We did have a good foundation in that we do like fresh fruits and vegetables. We had pretty much eliminated red meat, except for Bill’s all to frequent hamburgers, and “thought” we only ate lean meats. And thanks in part to our remarriage, we both stopped drinking and Bill quit smoking (in 1989).

What changes did we make? In essence, we eliminated ALL junk food and processed foods, and went to whole foods, lean meats and fish. Initially as previously mentioned in a previous post, Bill began to think of food as the enemy. He knew what he had to give up without any research and it was pretty hard on him. He never realized the love affair he had with a few things: diet sodas, hamburgers, french fries, ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, jelly beans, orange slices, snicker bars, pizza, fried shrimp, fried chicken, pizza, salad dressing, and Heinz ketchup. Linda has learned to make their own ketchup. We’re hoping to do that soon as that is Bill’s only vice. But he now rarely uses it and when he does, it’s in small quantities, unlike before.

It’s so funny, we used to say we really ate healthy, but when we started to “track” what we ate, we realized we had been deceiving ourselves. He was also a big iced tea drinker, caffeine free (as with his sodas) but he used artificial sweeteners. He gave it up and discovered hot green tea was heart healthy. While I pretty much only drank water, with a cup or two of coffee every day, we now only drink filtered water (and lots of it) and green tea.

We rarely eat out (after our remarriage). Bill has always been a bit of a fussy eater. His mom was a really good cook and she catered to him. I guess when we were first married, I did the same. Eventually he took over cooking and became quite good at it. We did ebb and flow with the latest guidelines, like going fat-free (not a good idea we now know), low carbs (we thought) and we did have a spell where we ate salmon at least once a week. When we did eat out, his go to favorite was a China Buffet. When we would eat out with others, he said as long as the menu had a hamburger, he’d be happy. In fact, the 10 years we rode our motorcycle around Florida, he said he was on the hunt for the best hamburger made and the best China Buffet. So that’s all the bad news.

Initially, it was hard for Bill to figure out what he could eat! I mentioned previously, he’s Irish and that means some sort of potato every day. He’s discovered he processes potatoes the way a diabetic processes sugar (more on this next post). When we need a fast meal, he’ll eat a processed ham sandwich on wheat or multi-grain bread. Of course, we thought we bought “healthy” bread, but again, once we scanned it, we saw it really wasn’t heart healthy. These were probably the hardest things he had to adjust to. BUT the good news is, four months later, we are eating great as he is learning how to cook heart healthy! He often says after one of our gourmet (to us) meals, “No one should feel sorry for us. We’re eating like royalty!”

Without belaboring what we went through as far as finding foods to eat, let’s just say, the timing was perfect! We were about to head to Florida and states unknown at the time to stay warm. And to figure out how to now live a truly heart healthy lifestyle. We have written a number of travel blogs about our winter travels, which start here: Bill drove our motor home 2,444 miles, we stayed in 20 different campgrounds and traveled as far west as Ocean Springs, Mississippi and as far north as Montgomery, Alabama. Remember, we are trying to stay warm!

This travel schedule helped Bill figure out how to incorporate an exercise program into our lifestyle. We already took long walks and hiked at every opportunity. But this wasn’t enough. When Bill took his nuclear stress test on December 29, he was taught how he needs to get his heart rate up to 140s and to sustain it for at least for five minutes. Then slow down and go again, and again. So he is now adding sprinting to his walks.

Recently, we started to notice how we weren’t as limber as we used to be.  For about three years, we’ve said, “We need to start stretching.” Well, guess what, it took this diagnosis to get us to start! We’re now start stretching and working our muscles first thing of a morning, before the morning walk/run. He’s added push ups and sit ups to his regime. Of course, Dr. Askew asked about this! He recommended the P90 Workout Program. 

When Bill first began to cook, he would use recipes. But after a few years, he pretty much made up his own. And now he is doing the same thing. One of the new things we are now incorporating is only using Extra Virgin Organic Cold Pressed Olive Oil (geez, is that right???) as our oil. We may start using the Avocado equivalent for the high heat cooking.

We were encouraged to only eat grass-fed beef, but Bill discovered it was not really lean meat. What a shock to discover the local Wal-Mart in Fredericksburg was starting to carry a line of bison meats. Now talk about lean, there you go!!! In our travels, we have found bison sirloin, ground Bison and even Bison hotdogs (for that fast meal we periodically need). What is great about Bison is that they are grass-fed and absolutely no hormones! We also began to use extra lean ground turkey breast and discovered turkey breast tenderloin and organic turkey burgers.

We met another couple who now must eat a heart healthy diet. The wife has taught us a lot. The most important tip early on was to parsnips for a “potato” substitute. They also use an “air fryer” (it actually bakes) which we just bought. We are starting to experiment with other recipes now.

We have expanded our shopping to try Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Markets and local health food stores. They are not everywhere, but Wal-Mart is. We are glad we have a residential refrigerator and freezer! We have been learning a lot as we visit each place in our travels. We especially enjoy the local health food stores as they have taught us a lot.

In Bill’s research for what to do, he discovered Dr. Steven Gundry. He has really set the pace for our new way of cooking (especially about Olive Oil), but still much in line with what David and Linda are doing. Excerpts from his website:

I founded Gundry MD with one mission: To dramatically improve human health, happiness, and longevity through my unique vision of diet and nutrition.

I believe I’ve discovered some unconventional truths about human nutrition. The Gundry MD philosophy is a radical departure from the traditional dietary “wisdom” which has failed so many Americans over the past few decades.

My research may offer a breakthrough for those of you who have struggled for years with your energy levels, your body, and your health. If you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked… I’d like to offer you HOPE….

For over thirty years, I have been one of the world’s pre-eminent experts in heart surgery. My experiences took me to new frontiers of medical science. I was a driving force behind major breakthroughs in medical technology and surgical procedures – breakthroughs that revolutionized the way doctors save lives.

But back in 2001, while I was Head of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Loma Linda University, I was asked to treat a chronically ill, overweight patient. This man was considered a hopeless case, someone who couldn’t be helped even by surgery. But “hopeless cases” have been a specialty of mine over the years, and I was willing to take on this man’s challenge when no one else would.

I discovered that the patient had actually reversed his heart-threatening symptoms – symptoms he was told were inoperable – with nothing but a combination of natural, dietary nutrients. This led me to pursue further research of my own. The conclusions I made were unmistakable… and they led directly to the foundation of Gundry MD.

We have had to figure out what works for us, and for Bill, what he can do for the rest of his life. We used to watch the Biggest Loser. We actually learned a lot from this show – and Bill commented, he can now see how hard it is to make a life long change in how one eats. What a gift these people had, such great resources provided to them: world-class coaches, medical staff, nutritional guidance, world class gym and a grand prize of $250,000 to the person who loses the most and doesn’t get voted off! With all that, so few actually make the life-long changes. So many return to their original weight. Have I mentioned learning about one of the coaches, Bob Harper’s heart attack? Oh that really hit Bill hard again – just a reminder of how important it is to eat properly and to workout properly!

We are in this for the long haul. We can’t go back. There is no choice for us now. BUT Bill says he really doesn’t think we can say we have succeeded or that we are out of the woods until we have done this for a year. We’re only into it for four months so far. But the results we saw just after four months let us know we are on the right track.

One of the GREATEST things we have learned is how this is not only a heart healthy diet/lifestyle, but it is also a cancer preventative lifestyle. Bill never thought he was at risk for heart disease, but we both have been concerned about cancer since both of our dads succumbed to it. When we have met cancer survivors and share our new life style, it is amazing for them to say this is how they now have to live!

We want to continue to be transparent and share more about our heart healthy journey. We would like to write more about how this is a cancer preventative lifestyle as well. We are a bit overwhelmed with all the literature we have read and are on a bit on information overload. BUT we now know, we are also fighting the cancer cells that want to invade our bodies!

We have a passion to help others! When Bill shares his story now, he can’t help but say he knows the Lord has had a hand in every aspect of this journey. So if we can help anyone else, we will be so happy. Bill especially hopes some younger people will learn to start this looking at how they eat sooner rather than later. If only he had understood what was meant the very first time he was prescribed a statin – he was told he ALSO needed a heart healthy diet and exercise. He was like so many others – “I’m taking a pill so I don’t need to do anything else.” WRONG!!! Had he caught this vision 10 years ago, he would not have heart disease – it’s not a good diagnosis, nor Metabolic Syndrome – which can be overcome! He told Dr. Askew he believes he can turn his heart disease around as both Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Gundry both teach and preach. But Dr. Askew quietly said, “The damage to your veins has been done. There is scar tissue there.” Bill still said he’s going to lick it!!!

Next up will be more about Metabolic Syndrome.  
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

4 thoughts on “Heart Disease: Entering a New Country

  1. Reblogged this on Follow the Tumble Lees! and commented:

    Ah, it’s Good Friday and here I am, finalizing our latest post about living with Heart Disease. Maybe it is linked – Our Lord and Savior gives us new life and life eternal.
    Bill’s diagnosis has also given us new life – but it’s only temporal. We do believe God created us for good, to bring Him Glory and Honor in all we do and how we live. We both feel we have been given a second chance to fully enjoy what time we have left on this earth! Happy Easter and we hope everyone makes it to church or a service sometime this weekend as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord! Our Lord came down from Glory to sacrifice His earthly body so those who believe in His sacrifice and all that it means, may have eternal life with Him! Isn’t that worthy of celebration?


  2. Excellent, excellent and excellent!! First, congratulations on an outstanding 4 months!!! What an inspiration!! This lifestyle (diet) sounds much like what I (we) have started to do. I listened to “Chris Best Cancer” and he also believes what we put in our mouths really determines our health. His diet is much the same as you described. Plant based and fruit. I no longer eat any red meat and very little meat at all. He also likes several noted spices for cancer prevention. The only thing I’m not doing well at is exercise!! Thank you Bill and Debbie for your outstanding influence in this area. God Bless and Happy Easter!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much!!! We actually are eating some of the things Dr. E said not to, but Dr. G says to do. We only eat very lean ground turkey and bison. We have to get the protein in Bill. We started out without and he was losing a pound or two a day! We are using cinnamon and rosemary as they are good for heart healthy diet and are anti-oxidant. The exercise is so important for the heart! Bill was coached by professionals on what he needs to do for his heart. He passed the test so he’s good to go. He’s so motivated!
      Happy Easter and May God Bless your weekend!


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