At 55 years old, Paul Chatlin found himself facing triple bypass heart surgery just like his father and uncles had faced before him. Thankfully, through a very observant cardiologist on duty, he found out it wasn’t just in his genes and that there was a better way to reverse heart disease even as they rolled him down the hospital hallway on a gurney.
By: Paul Chatlin
If it were not for a cardiologist on duty at the hospital who knew about the benefits of nutrition before pills or procedures, I would not be writing my story today. What I would have is a 10-inch scar on my chest from heart surgery with the expectation of more surgeries in the future. I would be on medication with all the side effects and would be continuing my family’s long history of heart disease. And, that’s if I was lucky. But thankfully, that’s not my story because a doctor at the hospital I ended up at knew a better way.
Family history of heart disease
Back in May of 2013, when I was 55 years old, I was diagnosed with heart disease. One artery was 100% blocked and two others were 65% blocked. In addition, I had leaky valves, an enlarged heart, a thickening of the right side of my heart, a left bundled branch block, and a heart murmur. I was in seriously bad shape and could not walk more than 7 steps without excruciating pain in my chest.
I was especially fearful because there is a long history of heart disease in my family. My dad and all of his brothers had bypass surgery when they were in their 50’s. Two of my uncles never made it through the surgery, one was never the same person again, and my father cried in pain for 4 days. It was the only time I saw tears in his eyes.
A gurney promise
Doctors did not know if I needed a heart transplant or bypass surgery. I kept praying that this was not happening to me! I promised that if I could find a way to not have this surgery I would give back to others. I called it a gurney promise.
After a heart catheter procedure, thankfully the heart transplant was ruled out. Instead, I was told I needed triple bypass surgery. The cardiologist gave me two options–bypass surgery or try a diet & lifestyle change called plant-based nutrition.
Choosing diet over heart surgery
When I said I would try anything other than bypass surgery, my cardiologist pulled out his cell phone while I was being wheeled toward surgery. He called Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn with the Clevland Clinic–author of Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease–who picked up the phone at 11 p.m. to talk to my cardiologist. Come to find out, Dr. Esselstyn was his mentor in medical school.
I was handed the phone and heard Dr. Esselstyn say, “Go on home, and I will call you in the morning.” As I looked back later, I realized that this was the first time I met my cardiologist and Dr. Esselstyn, and I was putting my life in their hands. Quite a leap of faith!
At 8:00 a.m. the next morning, Dr. Esselstyn called me and spoke to me for an hour. Thus began my plant-based transition.
After just 3 weeks, my angina (chest pain) disappeared. Within a year my cholesterol levels would drop from 347 to 92, and I would lose 75 pounds.
Lifestyle medicine not covered by insurance
Shortly after I went home from the hospital, I attended a plant-based cooking class hosted by Dr. Esselstyn’s family for his heart patients. After all, I was not a cook and did not have a clue about this lifestyle change. The cost of the class was $975.00. I tried to have Blue Cross/Blue Shield reimburse me but was denied. For the next 3 months, I tried to appeal the matter with no luck.
After escalating to the highest level, I was denied because they did not have a pay code assigned for this type of treatment, and they suggested I work with the legislature for any hope of future change. I kept asking them why they would rather cut a check for $125,000 for bypass surgery than reimburse me $975.00 so I could learn how to cook the food that would ensure I never need the heart surgery. Right then, I knew the system was broken, and I need a bigger voice.
Keeping a promise and finding a voice
As far as I was concerned, my prayers on that gurney had been answered–I didn’t have to have triple-bypass surgery, and I was alive and well. It was time to keep my promise and give back. I would find a way to share this lifesaving information about diet and heart disease reversal and try to be a voice for change in the medical and insurance communities.
My motivation for this lifestyle change was because of my love for my sons and out of respect and love for my father and uncles who never knew there was a better way.
(PBNSG) Plant Based Nutrition Support Group was born
I decided to put a small ad in the local paper inviting anyone who was interested in hearing my story to come to my home for a meeting. The ad looked something like this.
I would like to share my experience with any person in our community who may be considering a nutritional change before pills or procedures. Who should consider this type of nutritional change? Any person who has had bypass surgery and hopes that a change in eating habits may prevent additional surgery. Any person who is in need of bypass surgery but would like to change their diet to whole food plant-based in hopes of not needing surgery (like me). Any person whose family has a history of heart disease and wishes to alter their current diet to possibly avoid health issues down the road. Any person with type 2 diabetes. Any person who would like to try a weight loss program that does not starve you and is sustainable.
In just 2 days, 20+ people contacted me, and I invited them to my house. Each person who attended felt just like me. Alone but hopeful. I did this again the following month and another 20 people attended.
I began to think that we must start a whole food plant-based support group to help others. So, I contacted all of the hospitals in our area. I asked them to give me 3 names of cardiologists that may be interested in educating our community on the benefits of nutrition for heart disease.
One name kept being repeated by all of them– Dr. Joel Kahn. So I called him, and we met, and he agreed to assist me on this journey.
In February of 2014, we held our first PBN Support Group meeting. I thought that 20-40 people would be a great showing, but amazingly 123 people attended, and 23 people signed up as volunteers!
On March 24th, we held our second meeting. I thought there would be a significant drop-off of participants, but I was wrong! We had over 143 people attend. What was interesting is that of the 143 people, 44 of them were new faces. That meant that we now had over 260 people in our support group and 20 volunteers.
In the coming months, we continued to grow, built a Plant Based Nutrition Support Group webpage, and today have tens of thousands of members and followers. In 2020, PBNSG transitioned to having all online events and is now the largest and fastest-growing global all-virtual plant-based support organization. Our online presence offers a membership platform, specialized support groups, main speaker events, healthy living seminars, culinary classes, free monthly community support group meetings, Walker’s Way group for families, and soon, our upcoming signature course, PBNSG-U.
Please help me help others. Subscribe to our newsletters, register for our free monthly Community Support Group meetings, browse our recipes, join our Membership, and follow us on social media. Make a positive life change yourself and then help others by supporting PBNSG. We offer so much for anyone from any location. Though no one can go back and start over, anyone can start now and make a brand new ending!