From Hospice to Healthy with a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet

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Meg Donahue, the co-founder of MamaSezz Foods, is passionate about the power of plants because she found out firsthand how plants can heal the body when her family switched their diet to WFPB to help her 80-year-old mom that was in Hospice care.

80 year old millie playing guitar after healing from plant based diet

In this article, Meg shares the personal story of how her mom, Millie, was in Hospice care with less than 10% heart function (Ejection Fraction) and failing kidneys, but when she brought her home and started feeding her a whole food plant-based diet, she regained her health.

Our plant-based starter kits are a great way to begin this new healthy lifestyle because they include a book, a set of DVD lectures from Dr. Neal Barnard, and a folder full of helpful literature from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

By: Meg Donahue

From joy to sadness

“Mom, I’m pregnant.” That was not what my 80-year-old mother expected to hear from me, her 48-year-old daughter.

After the initial shock, she was all-in and incredibly supportive of me. But our shared joy was short-lived. A couple of months into my pregnancy, my mom’s health unexpectedly declined rapidly. She had congestive heart failure with less than 10% heart function and her kidneys were failing.

For the next 3-4 months she was in and out of the hospital and Intensive Care Units. Too weak for surgery, there was nothing the doctors could do to help her. It was only a matter of time before her heart would fail completely.

I was six months pregnant and prayed she would live long enough to meet her grandchild. It never crossed my mind that my own health and my baby’s health were also in serious jeopardy.

Unexpected circumstances

25 weeks into my pregnancy, I woke up in the middle of the night with something terribly wrong. My legs had swelled to double their size, and I was having trouble breathing.

I called my doctor and in minutes I was on my way to the hospital with acute preeclampsia. Edema and extremely high blood pressure are side effects of preeclampsia, and I spent the next 10 days closely monitored in the hospital. I also gained 65 lbs. in water weight. My face was so swollen I could barely see, and I was terrified I would lose my baby.

No visitors were allowed, except my mother. Convinced that the chances were high that if one of us was going to die soon, she said was coming to see me. She lived two states away and could barely walk, much less drive, so my sister jumped in to bring her to visit me. I’ll never forget seeing her at my hospital room door.

She got out of her wheelchair and walked over to my bed, as energetically as she did when she was in her 40s, and firmly held my hand. She didn’t even wince at my now hugely bloated unrecognizable face.

She leaned in and told me, “You are a fighter, you are going to be okay, and your baby is going to be okay.” I had no reason to believe her, but somehow I did.

My sister helped her back into her wheelchair, and they went to the cafeteria to have a cup of tea before heading back to Maine.

Shortly afterward, my blood pressure spiked out of control. My doctor said we couldn’t hold out any longer, I was at too high of a risk. They wheeled me into surgery. At barely 26 weeks pregnant, I gave birth by cesarean to a perfect, albeit tiny, 1lb. 10 oz. baby girl.

Meanwhile, Mom was still at the hospital. In the rush and stress of the emergency birth of Annie, and the relief of us both being alive, she collapsed and was admitted into the hospital herself.

The terrible trio

What a trio! We were all a mess and on three different floors in the hospital.

My daughter was in an isolette in the NICU, I was recovering from additional post-pregnancy complications, and my mom was in and out of Cardiac ICU with a worsening heart condition.

We stayed in or near the hospital for three months because Annie needed to stay in the NICU. Eventually, after a roller coaster ride and mountains of procedures and transfusions, she was strong enough to come home.

Mom, however, was clearly too sick to be alone or go back to her home in Maine. So, while we stayed at the hotel near Dartmouth Hospital, friends helped renovate an apartment in our garage for her.

Hospice care at home

Rather than send her back to Maine for hospice care, we brought Mom home to live with us for what we thought were the last months of her life.

Over a short period, she wasn’t able to get out of bed, so we did our best to make her comfortable.

The birth of my daughter, the happiest time in my life, now also carried immense grief. My mom was dying.

It didn’t make sense. She had lived a good life: she ate well – we thought – and had a wonderful marriage to her high school sweetheart (my dad died of Alzheimer’s two years prior), and had five kids and grandchildren.

I wasn’t ready to give up on her being able to hold and spend time with her new grandchild.

millie from mamasezz on phone
Photo Credit: MamaSezz

How to survive heart failure

Late one night, probably delirious from lack of sleep, I Googled “How to survive heart failure” and came across the book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.

He recommended eating a whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) to reverse heart disease.

I had no idea what a whole food plant-based diet meant. I ate a pretty standard, meat, dairy, occasional fast food, and weekly pizza diet, but we didn’t have any medical options for mom and I was willing to try anything.

My partner and I immersed ourselves in everything plant-based–recipes, books, documentaries –– and I started feeding Mom tiny plant-based smoothies and soups.

Eating plants and healing

Every day for every meal we fed her whole food plant-based foods.

Her health improved slightly after a few months and she was able to get up and walk around her little apartment and even hold her new granddaughter with help.

After 6 months, she was walking up and down the driveway. After a year, she started driving again and joined the local pool.

Her heart function improved dramatically and her numbers improved with every trip to the cardiologist! Something miraculous was happening.

But cooking, chopping, and sourcing high-quality ingredients every day were time-consuming. I loved the health benefits but didn’t love the hours of work.

Whole food plant-based meal delivery service

UPDATE: As of October 2023, MamaSezz has unfortunately stopped their meal delivery. Our new recommended plant-based meal service plan is Whole Harvest.

I searched for a company that made high-quality whole food plant-based ready-made meals with a familiar taste profile. I couldn’t find one but I did discover the massive negative impact the Standard American Diet –and food supply – has on people’s health, the health of the planet, and the well-being of animals.

My mind was on fire to find a way to spread the word and get good food to people.

I knew that if people could only experience how amazing it feels to simply eat more plants on a regular basis, they would shift their diet. But, I was wrong about that.

People love the benefits, but they are busy, and it’s hard to sift through the mountains of information to know what is actually good food.

Having convenient excellent quality great tasting food readily available was the missing link for many people.

The birth of MamaSezz Foods

Going with the theory that change is easier when it’s not hard to do, we created a company called MamaSezz Foods that prepares hearty, ready-made familiar products that taste great, flood your body with nutrients, and package them so they are ready to just heat and eat. Easier than popping a pizza in the oven!

I’m 57 now. My kiddos are still young, and I wonder what the future holds for them.

I fear sometimes that the damage to our planet and social structures is irreversible, that the tide has turned too far.

But then, I hear from our customers about how their lives have changed. Regular people – truck drivers, loggers, nurses, ministers, and more – who heard our story and decided that eating differently could help them too.

Oh, and by the way – Mom will be 90 this year. She’s still swimming three to four times a week, plays cards with her friends. She still lives with me, is still plant-based, and still sees her granddaughter every day.

Life is good.

UPDATE: As of October 2023, MamaSezz has unfortunately stopped their meal delivery. Our new recommended plant-based meal service plan is Whole Harvest.

Millie MamaSezz Laughing
Photo Credit: MamaSezz

Read our MamaSezz Product Review and watch a short video of Terri with EatPlant-Based sampling some of their recipes. EatPlant-Based is a proud affiliate with MamaSezz Foods because we believe in its products and services.

For those of you new to the whole food plant-based lifestyle, we’ve created a FREE 7-Day Plant-Based Menu Planner to help you get started!

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