From Heart Attack to Heart Health


Today I’m sharing my blogger buddy, Susan’s inspirational story about how a Christmas Eve heart attack shattered her family and how they found health and healing through a plant-based diet. When you finish reading, be sure to check out Susan’s lovely blog, Watch Hatch Fly about vegan food, life with two Portuguese Water Dogs, lake living, books, and home improvement projects.

 From Heart Attack to Heart Health

Celeste asked me to share my story about how my husband and I began a plant-based diet, so I’m happy to do that.

I had always been interested in diet and cooking. A close friend and I began exploring vegetarian and vegan cooking and took a class together. In 2011, she bought me The Vegan Table, a cookbook by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. It became a favorite, and I was making vegan dinners here and there for my family. However, we were still following a Standard American Diet. (My husband and I have been married for 25 years, and we have two almost-grown children.) 

On the morning of Christmas Eve of 2011, my husband and I took the dogs for a long walk, and after we returned home, I noticed my husband wasn’t feeling well. He appeared nauseous, sweaty and pale. I thought he was coming down with some kind of bug. It didn’t cross my mind this was anything more serious. He was 49 years old. I was 47. It was Christmas Eve, and who has anything serious on Christmas Eve? 

He sat down on the sofa, and I went to check on him, telling him he should go lie down. He complained of a tightness in his chest. He put his fingertips, his hand in a claw-like position, down onto his sternum, explaining where the tightness resided. He said his hands were tingling. That was all the information I needed, I guess. I suggested the ER. He said something about how it was Christmas Eve, as if that offered a reason we should hesitate to go. He relented, because he knew it was the right thing to do. I gave him an aspirin, which he swallowed on his way out the door. We live about three minutes from the nearest hospital.

The rest was like a bad dream. I still hoped it was an indigestion thing. They took him back right away. I signed us in, and then caught up with him as he was getting his EKG, which showed he was having a heart attack. The nurses handed me his pile of sweaty clothes and his shoes. They rushed him to the heart of the ER where a team of doctors and nurses swarmed him. I ran along to keep up.

They sat me down in a chair and introduced me to the hospital chaplain. I really couldn’t believe what was happening. He had no significant family history of heart attack. We were both competitive swimmers growing up and through college. We both exercised and were normal weight as adults. He never smoked. Cholesterol and blood pressure were normal at his prior checkup.

Three hours later, a blockage in one of his arteries had been opened with stents, and he began his recovery. A catheterization showed blockage in two other arteries, but nothing significant enough to warrant further surgery. The kids and I hauled the Christmas gifts into the hospital the next day, and it was the most unusual and surreal Christmas morning we ever spent. 

It’s one thing to know you are overweight and need to watch your diet, or to know you have high blood pressure and take steps to reduce it, or to quit smoking when you’re a smoker. But where do you go next when you thought you’ve been doing everything right?

A friend suggested we watch Forks Over Knives, the documentary featuring Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Colin Campbell, who wrote The China Study. We watched it the night my husband returned home from the hospital about three days after Christmas. It was eye-opening. It was also relieving! Here was information we had not known before! Here was something we could do, benchmarks we could aim for. Heart disease can be reversed, not just managed, but REVERSED, not with surgery or medication, but with simple-old food.

The information we receive from our doctors is off. Studies confirm it. As a society, we should require more of ourselves, meaning we should not eat meat at every single meal, every single day. We should eat plants! If we change our diets, we have significant control over our own health. I wish we had known. We often say we wish we had known all this before.

Likewise, we also often say we wish we had known how delicious a vegan diet could be! We order things in restaurants we never did before and say, “Wow! I wish we had known about this!” We try new recipes all the time and buy different food at the grocery store and local market. We often say we feel sorry for the carnivores! We feel sorry because they don’t know what they’re missing!

Our transition has been complete and positive. For us, it’s an exciting new area of interest. We focus on what we CAN eat, not what we can’t eat. We have a sense of humor about it, because we know friends think we’re crazy. On the other hand, friends have been VERY supportive and willing to play along with us. For those who are interested, we started with recipes from Mark Bittman’s New York times article, No Meat, No Dairy, No Problem.

Oh, and “The Vegan Table,” by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau remains one of our best cookbooks and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn is our BIBLE.

Thanks to Celeste for letting me share our story.

Here is a photo of me and Pete April of 2012, just months after the heart attack. We were already doing better, both of us! On that trip to New York (from our home in Pennsylvania), we visited our first all vegan restaurant, Candle 79. Delicious!


Heart apple photo courtesy of


About celestedimilla

Hey there. I’m Celeste, California girl, writer, psychotherapist and burgeoning plant-based foodie.
This entry was posted in Daily Life, Health, Plant-Based Diet and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to From Heart Attack to Heart Health

  1. Thanks Celeste for sharing this wonderful inspiring story, just about to head to Susan’s blog to leave a comment.

  2. xbox2121 says:

    This post started out with a tragic beginning but ended very happily, thanks for sharing your story

  3. Pingback: Honk If You’re Vegan! | watch hatch fly

  4. Celeste, that’s a story that should be widely republished. Would you allow me to repost on Learning from Dogs? Do you know how many dogs Susan and Pete have? Best wishes, Paul.

  5. What a wake-up call! We cannot take our health for granted; we must be proactive. Doctors should be prescribing leafy greens not statin drugs!! I’m so happy that Susan and Pete’s story had a positive outcome.

    • Thanks for stopping by Annie! What’s frightening about Pete’s story is that he had no warning signs. From all appearances he was perfectly healthy. Why gamble with your health when you can be certain of you health by choosing a plant-based diet. 🙂

  6. Tammi says:

    What a beautiful story Susan! And thank you Celeste for allowing us all to be impacted by her and support her. You are so blessed to have friends who were smart enough to know about a diet change. Yay for plants!!! 🙂

  7. Ralph says:

    Wow. What a story …. with a happy ending, thank heavens !! Luckily I only have heart problems when I comment on your posts Celeste 😉 Ralph xox 😀

  8. Lorrie Wenzler says:

    What a touching story with a positive ending and a positive message. It brought tears to my eyes, especially when they asked the chaplain to see you. It made think just how seriously ill your husband was. I’m glad that there was a positive outcome for your husband and your family.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  9. I loved reading this story, and I love the mentality of focusing on what we *can* do for our health, and that these choices open doors rather than closing them. And of course, the happy ending is the best part! Thanks for sharing it 🙂

  10. Ramona P says:

    Very inspiring story and makes the case well for plant-based eating.

  11. this is such an inspiring story, i am so glad it ended well.

  12. lizziefit says:

    What an amazing story. I only wish more of my friends and family would truly listen when they hear something like this. I know heart disease is still in the future for many people but hopefully by people like you sharing their stories we can reduce that number! PS You two look great 🙂

  13. Wow what an amazing story! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Pingback: Why we blog… Watch Hatch Fly | foodbod

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