Updated November 13, 2018
Work, kids, meals, homework, housework and it is a repeat cycle of “busy” until the weekend. Weekends are just as jam-packed until they are broken by Mondays and the start of the weekday cycle of activity all over again.
Life is very full with three kids each needing attention for any number of tween and adolescent crisis. Then there are the demands of nurturing along a career. As you can imagine, there was little time to spare for myself. Still, I loved every minute of my hectic life. My husband, Andrew, would affectionately refer to me as the “Energizer Bunny” as I darted out the door ready to take on the world!
However, in the fall of 2006, I started to notice some things that became progressively more alarming. I was feeling increasingly fatigued, having to come home and nap before doing my “second shift” on the home front and began skipping my regular exercise sessions. Also, more concerning was lower leg and abdominal swelling that I at first attributed to the hotter summer weather. By September of 2007, my level of exhaustion was unmanageable – I was coming home and getting right into my pajamas. I was ready for bed before my kids. The swelling in my lower limbs and abdomen became more unpleasant.
Eventually, all this led to a visit to our local urgent care where I was put on doctor’s leave for two weeks to deal with my new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes as well as being scheduled for further investigation for suspicious heart abnormalities. Months of more testing revealed a diagnosis of both severe right-sided heart failure and severe sleep apnea. Six months later, my sleep specialist informed me that I had idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH) and a right heart catheterization. I became classified as an extremely rare and high-risk patient with no cure and a terminal prognosis: two years to live without treatment and five years to live with treatment.
Suddenly, my life as I knew it was wiped out. I had to stop work immediately, and within months I required a nasal cannula and had to carry around a heavy tank of oxygen. The deterioration continued rapidly with the loss of my eyesight and a page long medication list. I stayed at home except when attending up to three medical appointments a week, keeping more than five specialists busy. My disease progressed to the point that I was placed on a monitoring list for a lung transplant. I continued on a variety of drug combinations ranging in cost from $36,000 to $100,000 per year. These potent drugs take a physical toll. I felt like I had the flu every day and the stomach flu every night–waking every morning incontinent. This went on for over five long and challenging years!
Then one evening, I turned on the TV. CBC host George Stroumboulopoulos was explaining that the documentary Forks Over Knives had changed his life and might do the same for viewers. My husband, Andrew, and I watched it from the front row of the movie theater—the only place I could see it with my limited vision—and we were on board. In November 2012, after a year of trial and error, I reached out to one of the featured doctors in Forks Over Knives: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., MD. This phone consultation changed my life.
The next month, with the generous support of friends and church members, I attended a five-day intensive program at Dr. McDougall’s Health and Medical Center. It was there that I gained the tools and knowledge to adopt a whole food plant-based lifestyle, making food my first medicine. I taught myself how to cook while legally blind and too weak to stand. I started by choosing meals I already loved to eat—healthy, delicious versions of international cuisine—for example, Indian chana masala (chickpeas cooked with tomato and onions) and Chinese stir-fried veggies cooked in veggie broth or water.
Fifteen months later, my eyesight was fully restored, I was off the lung-transplant monitoring list, I needed oxygen only at night, and I no longer required any insulin. My right-sided heart failure was gone, and so were symptoms like neuropathy, dizzy spells, and fainting. By June 2013, I had lost more than 110 pounds. My respirologist downgraded my IPAH to level 1 (from level 3) and took me off my IPAH drugs and my endocrinologist considers me a non-diabetic!
Today, I safeguard my health and maintain my weight loss by eating a whole food plant-based diet and exercising daily. My kidneys were compromised during the potent drug therapies but evidence-based nutritional science indicates I am on the healthiest diet possible for my kidneys and overall health. I am very grateful.
I have put this gratitude into action by finding ways to help others gain the benefits of preventing and reversing lifestyle diseases. To get the message out, Andrew and I host a monthly meetup community potluck in Calgary offering a delicious array of food and a ‘vegucation’ lesson with each gathering. To further support others in this lifestyle, we also co-facilitate a monthly “Staying Power” Support Group. And in the Spring of 2018, we were lucky enough to host the “Fork Smart Two Day Why and How Summit” featuring both Dr. Anthony Lim, JD, MD, Medical Director of McDougall Health & Medical Center and via Skype Dr. John McDougall, MD. We are in the process our next Fork Smart Summit for May 2019.
Ultimately my own story is a valuable reminder that while others empowered me with knowledge and support, the change came about because of me—and what I chose to put on the end of my fork!
To connect regarding our meetup potluck or health coaching you can find me at: https://www.drmcdougall.com/kate-mcgoey-smith/