A Whole Grain Lifestyle Can Be a Real Life Saver

November 14, 2013† †††††††††††† Matt Salis - Owner, Great Harvest Bread Co. of Denver


Kathleen Hickeyís doctor told her she had mouth cancer in the late 90ís.† While treatable, the diagnosis was still terrifying for Kathleen and her husband, Richard.† Radiation treatments sent the cancer into remission.† It returned in 2001.† More terror.† More radiation.† Once again, medical technology and Kathleenís strong will to live and thrive beat the cancer into remission.† Like a black cloud, however, the possibility of this vicious, relentless killer returning would remain on Kathleenís and Richardís minds.


Richard Hickey suffered a mild stroke on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1, 2009.† His doctor told him that his non-debilitating stroke was caused by heart disease.† He had enough cardiovascular blockage that he required quadruple bypass surgery.† In one way, Richardís health issues were a surprise (if not to the Hickeyís, certainly to many of their friends).† You see, Richard is a marathon runner.† He has lived his life in peak physical condition with a healthy attitude and lifestyle.† In another way, however, Richardís heart disease was not only predictable, but almost expected.† His father died of a heart attack at age 68.† Three of his four grandparents died from heart disease.† In spite of watching what he ate and exercising, it was only a matter of time for Richard.


In addition to being active, outgoing, caring and thoughtful people, Richard and Kathleen are also intelligent and stubborn.† These last two attributes seem to be what has saved both of their lives.† Unwilling to wait and see what the cancer would do, and succumb to a life of medications and procedures to deal with heart disease, Richard and Kathleen began a relentless campaign of research, learning and solution development to ease their fears and cure their deadly afflictions.


Along their research journey, the Hickeys came across three brilliant men who were singing a similar tune.† In Dr. T. Colin Campbellís book titled The China Study, Dr. Campbell reports about a section of China where the inhabitants consume a plant based whole foods diet.† No meats.† No dairy.† No Eggs.† No processed foods.† Guess what else.† No cancer and no heart disease.† Dr. Campbell got Richardís and Kathleenís attention.† Also holding their attention was a program promoted by their health insurance carrier based on the theories of cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish.† Dr. Ornish claims that through exercise and a vegan whole foods diet a person with heart disease can not only reduce their chances of future heart attacks, but that they can actually repair the heart itself.† Reversing the damage done to a pretty valuable organ was high on Richardís to-do list.† Repairing Richard was intriguing enough to lead the couple to contact the Cleveland Clinicís Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr.† Dr. Esselstyn also believes that a plant based oil free diet can reverse the effects of heart disease, and Richard Hickey dared him to prove it.† Esselstyn took up the challenge and invited Richard to join his research study.


In September, 2011, Richard joined Esselstynís study and moved a nutrition plan direction Kathleen and Richard had been heading during their research to its final destination.† The Hickeys were now totally on a plant based whole foods low fat diet with the intention of curing Richardís heart disease and keeping Kathleenís cancer away forever.† Kathleen tells a story of the day they decided to fully embrace their new lifestyle.† Step one was to box up most of their pantry and chest freezer and knock on neighbors doors to give the food away.† What neighbors did not take, they donated to local food pantries.† It had to go.† There was going to be a period of withdrawal from some of their favorite now off limits foods that would require both willpower and lack of easy availability.† Besides, they needed the pantry space for the foods that were part of their new lifestyle.† Walking the neighborhood with a box of free eggs, milk and processed foods makes you look kind of strange.† Maybe the only cool thing about fighting cancer and heart disease is that you really, really do not care how you look to other people.


One of the factors that convinced Richard and Kathleen that Esselstynís plan was the way to go was his successful track record.† Richard tells me that Dr. Esselstyn invited 24 heart disease patients to join his original study in 1985.† Seven of them refused because they felt the dietary restrictions were too rigid.† That part is hard for me to understand.† I love a good cheeseburger from time to time as much as the next guy.† However, if I was told eating an occasional cheeseburger was going to kill me, I am pretty sure I could resist.† So could the 17 patients who signed-up for the Esselstyn challenge 28 years ago.† When that original research study ended in 2006, 11 of them were still alive.† Not one of the members who had died during the study was taken by causes related to heart disease.† Dr. Esselstyn was batting a thousand, and Richard and Kathleen liked those odds.


While the Hickeys admit that their heart healthy lifestyle is not easy, they have found ways to not only manage, but even enjoy their eating plan.† I am very proud to say that this is where the Great Harvest Bread Co. comes in.† Richard and Kathleen absolutely love our 100% whole grain breads.† They buy eight to twelve loaves at a time, and we see them in the bakery every couple of weeks.† They are pushing a loaf a day at times.† They eat Honey Whole Wheat like they own the place.† On each visit to the bakery, they also enjoy a veggie sandwich and a slice of bread from our breadboard.† Just this week I watched Kathleen devour a slice of Whole Grain Sourdough right out of the oven.† She had to toss the slice from hand to hand while she ate it because it was so hot.† It was surely burning her mouth as she savored every bite.† She did not care.† She was taking her medicine.† Several slices a day are keeping the cancer away.


Kathleen and Richard are proud to share that their vegan whole foods diet is just about the only medicine that they are taking to attack their attempted killers.† Kathleen takes a thyroid medication because of damage done by the radiation, and Richard takes a B12 and D vitamin along with a hypertension medication.† Thatís all.† Oh, and a whole bunch of wheat, honey, water, yeast and salt.† Like most women battling a disease, Kathleen keeps her medicine in her purse.† She always has a half dozen or so Great Harvest Honey Whole Wheat dinner rolls bouncing around in there.† They never know when you will be in restaurant with a menu that is unfriendly to their dietary restrictions.† When running late, the McDonaldís drive through is not an option.† Starbucks does not really have anything to offer for the Hickeys, either.† Never fear, Kathleenís purse full of dinner rolls is here to get them out of any sticky situation.


When asked what the toughest part of their lifestyle is, they agree that it is the reactions and comments from other people.† Many people close to Richard and Kathleen do not understand why they eat so much whole grain bread.† They are often asked why they do not add a little fish or some lean white meat into their diets.† They are often told that their lifestyle is just too radical.† The couple paraphrases a quote from Dr. Esselstyn saying that ripping open your chest and using tools to make a heart pump blood is radical.† Eating a vegan whole foods diet is easy in comparison.


Dr. Esselstynís original study group is not the only place to find successful results from this lifestyle.† Kathleen is still very proud to be cancer free, and Richardís test results shows every indication that his body is being repaired.† His blood work from his last visit to his doctor proves it.† The Mayo Clinic calls an LDL cholesterol level below 100 mg/dl ideal for people at risk of heart disease.† Richardís LDL is 49 mg/dl.† Mayo calls triglycerides below 150 mg/dl desirable.† Richardís triglyceride level is 46.† Not bad for a 73 year-old marathon runner with heart disease.


I cannot possibly share wonderful news about the wonderful powers of whole grains without a mention for the many who believe carbs and gluten makes people fat and sick.† While there certainly are people who suffer from an autoimmune disorder that makes gluten off limits, the majority of people attempting gluten free diets are just grasping at straws.† For most of us, whole grain gluten containing carbohydrates are a key component of a healthy life.† If you ever meet Richard and Kathleen, you will see what I mean.† At age 73, I am pretty sure Richard could still beat my 40 year-old fanny in a race around the block.† The Hickeys are winning their battles with cancer and heart disease and are the picture of good health.


I am not sharing Kathleenís and Richardís story to try to convince you to become a vegan.† I am sharing their story because I am proud of them.† Their commitment to saving their own lives is a story worth telling.† I am an omnivore and plan to stay that way.† I stay away from processed foods as much as possible, and will continue to do so.† It is true that the more I learn about Richard and Kathleen, the more times I choose a veggie sandwich or a PB&J over turkey or roast beef.† Have you tried our all natural Cinnamon Peanut Butter with Bumbleberry Jelly?† That is a PB&J a grown-up can be proud to eat.† I am also sharing their story because the fad diets and misinformed gluten fear mongers are attacking my livelihood and, therefore, my family.† It is time for us to fight back.† We must replace the misinformation and ill-conceived fads with facts and true stories of lives where whole grains are not just allowed, but they are a source of good health and vitality.


Just about everyone on this planet through relationships with friends and family has been touched by cancer and / or heart diseases.† I encourage you to share this story with as many people as you would like.† Through the wonders of modern technology, spreading the story of Richard and Kathleen is just a few clicks away.† I readily admit that I am asking you to sing the praises of Great Harvest whole grains for me.† If I get a new customer or two, I will be glad for their business.† If the story of Richard and Kathleen puts someone at health risk on a better path and saves a life, that will be a miracle.† Either way, thanks for reading Kathleenís and Richardís story, and thanks for your support of the Great Harvest Bread Co.

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