When I was 62 years old, I collapsed on a tennis court while playing mixed doubles with my wife, Janice. When she got to me, I had no pulse, was unconscious and not breathing. I was experiencing ventricular fibrillation, which results in death 95% of the time when experienced outside a hospital.
When EMS arrived, it took multiple shocks to get my heart back into rhythm. They rushed me to the hospital where my reason for admission was noted as sudden cardiac death.
I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and had a heart function of 15%. My cardiologist warned me that if my heart continued to deteriorate, I would need to start looking for a new one. This was the wakeup call I needed to make my health and well-being a priority. I took early retirement to focus on recovering my heart health, including adopting a vegan lifestyle.
So, at 62, after my scary diagnosis and decision to go vegan, my life changed in four major ways:
1. I completely changed my diet.
As a vegan, I gave up meat, fish, poultry, dairy and all other animal products. Dr. Colin Campbell’s book The China Study and many other publications, educated me with the information I needed to make the transition in my diet.
Adopting this new diet helped me lose more than 40 pounds, get off all medications, start to run again and eventually start doing triathlons.
In fact, this year I'm competing in the 2015 National Senior Games in the triathlon and mixed doubles tennis with my wife. I’ve also been selected as one of thirteen Humana Game Changers for serving as a role model to seniors — and people of all ages — for how to live a healthy life.
2. I became ethically aware of how we treat animals.
If we have dominion over those in our care, then we will be judged by how we respect them and their needs.
It's unconscionable the cruelty with which we handle them, especially farmed animals. While we are aware of the conditions in which animals are treated and handled, we turn a blind eye to it.
3. I became a compassionate environmentalist.
Gary Francione, in Eat Like You Care, says we will consume more than 57 billion land animals and more than a trillion aquatic animals next year.
The cost to the environment in feeding and raising that many animals is staggering. If the rest of the world ate like Americans, we would need a second Earth, but one isn't coming.
Additionally, the world’s standard of living is rising, and more are eating a meat-based diet, which isn't sustainable. This environmental cost will be shared by all of us, but particularity those who follow us.
It's said that an environmentalist that eats meat is like a philanthropist who does not donate.
4. I became aware of incongruities in my own behavior.
In striving to live the life that I espouse, I fall short many times. But I've learned to forgive myself, make necessary corrections and move on.
I would often get upset with those who claimed to be enlightened or at some higher level of spirituality and still ate meat or dairy products. I now just ask if their journey includes some changes in the near future.
I adopted a vegan lifestyle for my health, but I stay a vegan for the other reasons – ethical, environmental and to be consistent with my beliefs. And now, at 70 years old, I feel healthier than I ever have before in my life.
Photo courtesy of the author