Watching my dad die from heart disease was probably one of the hardest things I have done. After his third heart attack, bypass surgery, and only in his mid-50’s, my dad went on full disability with congestive heart failure, renal failure, and type 2 diabetes. I remember taking him weekly to the hospital to remove all the water from his blood from the congestive heart failure. I took him to all his doctor appointments, filled his pill containers, grocery shopped, cleaned, and prepared food for the week. I slept countless nights on his couch. It was a lot of work, and I have no idea how I managed to do it all. It’s just what you do. Eventually he ended up with a permanent shunt and off to dialysis 3 days a week until he passed away—from a bump on the head, of all things. It seemed a true blessing that he passed away in his sleep from a brain bleed. To my mind, he had suffered long enough.
I believed from all my training and research that heart disease was something I was not going to be able to avoid. My dad’s heart disease started me on the path and I had already made significant changes before I became vegan. At one of my routine physicals, my cholesterol hit 271 and it scared the hell out of me. Well, that was it: no more fast food; I gave up red meat; and I started eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. I was also terribly out of shape. I couldn’t even run a mile, but it had to start somewhere. Within a year I was running a half marathon every Sunday around Presque Isle State Park. I lost 40 pounds and lowered my cholesterol 100 points. And I learned that it is possible to improve overall health. I was not destined to live and die like my dad. He had made attempts to heal himself over those years. Wow, did he smell of garlic! He made tonics and elixirs — that’s what he called them — but he couldn’t give up his McDonald’s hamburgers (with only ketchup and no pickle which did baffle me).
My mom, at eighty, takes more medicine than anyone should have to take. She has had a few mini strokes and lost the sight in one eye. She has been on cholesterol medicine since age forty, blood thinners, water pills, and a stool softener because of all the other medications she takes. My sister has been on blood pressure medicine and more since she was nineteen. She has type 2 diabetes and has been morbidly obese most of her life. She is convinced that if she takes a lot of protein, she will lose weight and live better. My brother, although he’s in a lot better shape that our sister, has also been on blood pressure medicine for a long time. He eats a pretty decent diet for the most part but it’s still standard American fare. I am the oldest at fifty-seven, an active vegan, and still on no medicine.
I love my family very much. So, what does anyone do who loves their family? Tries to help them when they are suffering. My mom complains all the time about the pain she’s in, the constipation, losing her motor skills. She pretty much just sits in her chair all day, watches TV, plays solitaire on the iPad, and complains about her “situation.” I have tried so many times to recommend different food. With all the training I’ve had, I do know a bit about food and health. Not only am I an MSVA graduate, I took the T. Collin Campbell course, went through a vegan muscle and fitness course, and have been to countless talks from a lot of the great plant-based doctors and speakers. I don’t push a vegan diet, I try living by example. It’s actually insulting when no one will listen to a word I have to say. I used to take it personally and felt as though I would have to just wash away my feelings for my loved ones so it wouldn’t hurt so much to see their health fail.
What is the right thing to do? I have to just be there for them, and not to let it hurt my feelings.
I wish the best to you on your journey wherever it may take you.
Craig Casler, VLCE lives in Erie, PA where he has three girls and nine grandchildren. He owns Absolute Infrared Inspection Services.