From death's door to second chances
The Australian Vegan Magazine | ISSUE 5 – Nov/Dec 2017
When Kevin Blair tells you that life can change in a heartbeat, he is actually speaking authentically from personal experience.
In 2014, Kevin’s entire world turned upside down when he had the first of two heart attacks, although at the time, he didn’t know it.
The divorced father of two was living in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia, and enjoying a weekend with friends which included two bike rides. During the first one, he says he felt himself struggling.
“I wasn’t breathing very well and kept sweating. My chest felt tight and I just put it all down to being unfit,” he says.
“It had been a while since I had done any exercise and my best friend and house mate Lise had been hitting the gym. She was riding with one of her friends, so I gave myself a kick up the butt and got out there too.”
The next day they went for another ride and similar symptoms occurred. That afternoon, he came home and was mowing the lawn when sweat started pouring off him; his face reddened and he felt uncomfortable.
A nagging feeling in the back of his mind prompted Kevin to head inside, grab an aspirin and some water, and then lie down and rest.
Later that evening after dinner with friends, he felt his chest was still “quite tight” and decided it was time to seek some medical input.
“I grabbed my keys and wallet and just jumped in the car in a t-shirt and shorts and drove myself to the emergency department at Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital,” he says.
“The moment I uttered the words ‘chest pain’, things started moving really fast and I was whisked inside and plugged into monitoring equipment.”
Tests revealed that not one but two heart attacks had occurred in the past 48 hours and the medical staff started making plans for him to be air-lifted to Perth, 600 kilometres away for an angiogram and further assessment.
Kevin was flown the next morning with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and admitted to Royal Perth Hospital’s cardiac unit.
An angiogram revealed the grim news that his three arteries were all 80 to 90 per cent blocked and the surgeon recommended a triple bypass.
Kevin says he felt strongly about wanting to avoid such major surgery, and instead, opted to have stents inserted.
“I just felt that [a triple bypass] was so extreme and I found myself questioning it. Basically, I felt that I would have the stents, do everything the doctors and dietitians said, take my meds, eat better food and not go down the road of major surgery.”
Four stents were inserted (two were inserted into one artery as the blockage was so severe) and Kevin was discharged from hospital and sent home with a bag full of medications and dietary advice.
“My food choices previously had been pretty bad,” he concedes.
“My ex-wife and I used to eat a lot of processed food or instant meals. We rarely had home-cooked dinners and I was a sucker for take-away.”
“I had ignored my diabetes symptoms and just did what I wanted, and this continued when I moved out, but obviously it caught up with me.”
“Lise loves cooking and thankfully was happy to help me turn my bad habits around. And although I had been reluctant before, I was now willing to listen.”
For the next two months he and his housemate reduced fats and sugars in his diet, and did everything the doctors told him to do.
“I then had another series of blood work and testing done and not one single thing had changed,” Kevin says.
“The surgeon changed one dose on one prescription but it was devastating for me. It just seemed there was no chance I would ever get better and that I would be on all these tablets for life. I felt there was no hope and left there almost in tears.”
The shock of his near-death experience did bring about some happier news, his relationship with his housemate Lisa grew from a deep friendship into a romantic partnership and was also the catalyst for what happened next.
“Lise was not having what the doctors said; she was determined there must be another way for me to heal and she had it in her head that the ‘food as medicine’ approach would be the answer,” he says.
“Basically, she dug her heels in and went looking for alternatives.”
This led to Lisa reaching out to health and wellness advocate Tyler Tolman, an American living in Bali, who runs juicing and fasting retreats to help people heal naturally. Tyler’s advice was straightforward: get onto a wholefoods plant-based diet and look up Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, a renowned cardiologist in the United States.
The couple started watching YouTube videos about Esselstyn’s work, particularly his program of reversing heart disease by putting patients on a wholefoods plant-based diet. Later that year, the couple watched Forks over Knives, and as the credits were rolling at the end, Lisa turned to Kevin and asked, “What do you want to do?”.
“I immediately said, ‘We are doing that’, and when she asked me when I wanted to start I replied, ‘right now’ and that was that,” he says.
The next morning their fridge and pantry were emptied out, and all meat products, dairy and processed foods and oils disappeared.
“We had to re-stock everything, and buying fresh or organic produce in a regional mining town isn’t exactly easy, but we did the best we could and just got started,” he says.
“Creating meals suddenly became fun again; we went in search of recipes,
websites, Facebook groups and books to help with ideas, and from that moment on, we were plant-based, no turning back.”
Within two weeks, Kevin’s blood sugars were dropping for the first time since he had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, his energy levels were soaring and the weight was dropping.
With support from a local GP monitoring his progress, Kevin was able to reduce some of his medications and even come off a few.
Two months later, they were back in the surgeon’s office in Perth for Kevin’s heart function test and more blood work. At this visit, the news was entirely different.
“The surgeon was thrilled, telling me I had ‘perfect healthy heart function’ and he felt it was because of the change he had made to my prescription. I then smiled and told him I was slowly but surely coming off the tablets and changing my diet instead.”
“When he asked what I was doing I told him I was on a plant-based diet and he tipped his head, looked at me and said in a cynical tone, ‘Are you happy?’ and then started writing up another prescription.”
“My respect bubble for the medical profession popped loudly at this point.”
The couple left the surgeon’s office and vowed they would not be back. A visit to a plant-based GP north of Perth provided support and good advice, and confirmed they were on the right track.
Back in Kalgoorlie-Boulder the couple continued their lifestyle change and learned to laugh at the occasional jibes and jokes from friends about their new “vegan hippy lifestyle” and being dropped off invitations to attend barbecues.
“We knew we were on the right path so there was nothing and no one that was going to upset us, and in fact, we learnt who our dearest friends were because they were all cheering us on, encouraging us and applauding the changes.”
“Some of them also started presenting with health issues and came to us for advice and support, which of course we were happy to provide.”
After a surprise marriage proposal in front of a large crowd of friends at their house-warming, Kevin and Lisa planned their wedding, which took place at sunrise in 2015 on the beach at Sanur, Bali.
“We wanted to make a new start, a fresh beginning, a new dawn for both of us,” Kevin says.
“A new chapter was unfolding and life really is too short. I didn’t want to wait around, my best friend had helped save my life and I knew I wanted to be with her forever.”
More new beginnings followed when they made the decision to leave Western Australia and move to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland in February this year.
“We loved Kalgoorlie-Boulder until the day we left and we hold fabulous memories there, including raising our kids (they have five between them, all now adults) enjoying fantastic careers and establishing a
community theatre,” Kevin says.
“But it was time to do something just for us, to go out and find the lifestyle we really wanted, to be in a place where fresh, healthy food is abundant and affordable, and where we could start living a more laid back life while we are still young enough, healthy and energetic enough to do so.”
The couple are loving the coast and have met and made friends quickly, through several vegan Facebook groups, theatre groups and via their respective sub-contract roles in IT, social media and PR.
Their Facebook page Plant Power Mojo is the platform where they share their recipes, places to eat out, ideas, hints and tips for living plant-based, and experiencing the optimal health benefits.
Now advocates with online shopping business InnerOrigin, they are aligning their passion with an additional income stream and happily sharing with customers “truth on label” Australian products - food items, skin care, cleaning items and more, that are GMO-free, organic, safe, free of toxins and harmful ingredients.
They are excited that several friends have reversed debilitating health symptoms and come off medications, turning to food and lifestyle changes for healing instead.
When Tyler Tolman tours Australia for speaking engagements and programs the couple joins his Queensland support crew and love welcoming people to his events.
They also employ their PR and IT skills to help several like-minded businesses promote things like detoxing, colon hydrotherapy, ‘food is medicine’ and that plant-based food can be fun, filling and delicious.
A video filmed by Kevin’s vegan personal trainer about his health turn-around went viral online, with nearly 30,000 views worldwide, and has led to people reaching out to him for support, advice and hope.
Lisa and Kevin now answer social media and phone messages almost daily about food, fasting, recipes, and lifestyle changes and they couldn’t be happier to help. They’ve studied the eCornell certificate in plant-based nutrition and Lisa is now undertaking additional nutrition studies
and working on a recipe collection, while Kevin plans to study hypnotherapy and life coaching to help others improve and change their life.
Now 49 years young, he easily looks 10 years younger.
“I didn’t think I would ever have said it at the time, but that heart attack was the best thing that ever could have happened to me," Kevin says.
“Staring death in the face led me to live again. And now, every day, I am pinching myself looking around at my wife, our home and the utterly stunning beaches and scenery we get to enjoy.”
“We are so blessed with this life. Our kids are all happy and healthy and doing great things. We have two gorgeous cats who run our household and we have friends both near and far who are constantly
bringing positive energy and great hugs.”
“I’ve been given a second chance and I will always be making the most of it.”
By Lisa Blair
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