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I was a bodybuilder who almost died from a heart attack: What I learned after saved my life

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As a former competitive bodybuilder, who trained hard well into my mid-40s, I have spent most of my life feeling and looking pretty good. Besides battling a brief opiate addiction in my late 40s, which I overcame by the grace of God, I led what I thought was a healthy lifestyle. 

But my world was rocked at 57, when I had a massive heart attack right in the middle of the gym.

In 2018 my wife, Mia, and I were living a good clean healthy lifestyle – exercising together five or six days a week. Mia was a vegetarian, and though I supported that, as a former bodybuilder, I believed I needed animal protein to hold muscle size and strength. I was training hard and eating pretty much what I wanted. I still felt great, and looked pretty decent on the outside as well.

We were also pursuing Mia’s God-given dream of opening a plant-based, faith-based café in our community – a place where people could get great, healthy food while being spiritually fed, too. Revelations Café was in its final build-out phase, and I could not get onboard with the menu – why own a restaurant if I can’t enjoy the food? I had no desire to alter my own diet. 

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In late summer 2018 – about six months away from opening the café – I began to experience some uncomfortable sensations in my chest. I assumed it was a pulled pectoral muscle and figured I would just need to take it a little easier in the gym until it healed. But then, it seemed to bother me even with brisk walks or short runs. Although this uncomfortable feeling wasn’t getting better, I just kept eating the way I wanted and continued to train, believing it would go away.

On Sept. 2, 2018, while in the middle of my workout, the pain became unbearable, and it started radiating down my left arm – this could not be a pulled muscle. I was struggling to breathe, and I motioned to Mia. I could barely speak, I mouthed, “I’m done!” I was pale, and began to black out from the pain and shortness of breath.

I was having a heart attack right in the middle of the gym.

By the grace of God, the hospital was only three minutes around the corner, and while speeding to the emergency room, Mia prayed. We got there just in time to stop what was later classified as the “Widow Maker.” I didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, and worked out regularly – I was in disbelief that this could happen to someone like me.

During my recovery, a good friend sent me a book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn called, “Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease.” I was grateful until I started reading it; it was all about eating a strict plant-based diet in order to heal my heart disease and prevent another heart attack. However, the more I read and understood the science, the more I was convinced something needed to change in my own life. In that moment – two weeks after suffering a widow maker heart attack – I decided to go plant-based.

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Today, four-plus years later, I’m still living a plant-based lifestyle, complete with intermittent fasting and regular exercise. I am continuing to reverse my cardiovascular disease one day at a time, and have no plans of ever going back to my old ways. I feel incredible and have more energy than I did 20 years ago!

In my 60s now, I do not have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Both my cardiologist and primary care doctors have commended me for the changes I’ve made, and, based on all my vitals and blood tests, encourage me to stay the course.

It’s no secret Americans are plagued by high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes (among other things). According to Mayo Clinic, 70% of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half are taking four or more prescriptions. Despite spending more per-person on health care than any other country in the world, ours is one of the sickest countries on earth. But, remarkably, many of our illnesses are proven to be reversible or preventable through diet.

I have seen with my own eyes that to uncover the true root causes of many, if not all heart attacks and cardiac events that have become so frequent in our culture, we will need to take a hard look at what we’re eating. It’s not just those who appear to be unhealthy – tragically, more and more athletes are suddenly dropping dead or having major cardiac events.

Could this simply be a result of the Standard American Diet (SAD)? Eating the wrong food can destroy our bodies on the inside, regardless of how many hours we exercise. For some, low body fat, high muscle and stellar athletic ability mask a more serious problem, and can even create a false sense of security that the “insides” match the “outsides.”

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Documentaries like “Forks Over Knives,” “Revelations Café,” which tells my own personal story, and others, exist to help educate people on the benefits of plant-based living. It’s time that we, as a society, acknowledge and respect the science and data supporting plant-based diets as a means of preventing and even reversing heart diseases. 

It is my prayer that people will hear my story and make their own diet changes – before it’s too late. 

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