'I Stopped Eating Meat After a Near-Death Experience'

I vividly remember the day I had my heart attack. Although I had experienced uncomfortable sensations and pains in my chest for several days prior to the main episode, this particular day was much worse. It was Saturday, September 1, 2018. My wife, Mia, asked me to go for a brisk two or three mile walk to start our day—not uncommon for us.

Approximately one mile into our walk, I began to experience severe tightness in my chest, and it was a bit difficult to breathe. It seemed the quicker we walked, the more intense the pain became. Because of my strong athletic background as a competitive bodybuilder, I dismissed the pains as a pulled muscle, and figured any activity I did would aggravate it.

Once we finished this neighborhood walk, we decided to go to the gym. About 15 minutes into my workout, I started to experience the intense chest pain once again; however, this time it was radiating down my left arm.

The more intense the pain, the more I pushed, thinking it would go away. I was on the verge of blacking-out when I told Mia I was done. From the way I was holding my chest, and the paleness of my complexion, Mia knew that I was having a heart attack.

Robby Graham
Robby Graham writes about how his heart attack inspired him to change his diet. Robby Graham

Going to hospital

Mia walked me to the car. By now I was fading in and out of consciousness. I don't remember much except Mia praying for me to hold on as she drove very quickly to the emergency room. Fortunately, we got there within five minutes.

They immediately got me hooked me up to an EKG. They drew blood and within minutes determined I was experiencing a heart attack. I was administered nitroglycerin, which immediately helped the symptoms I was experiencing, and they were able to stabilize me.

If I'd lived a sedentary lifestyle, as many do, this could have been fatal because there would have been no warning signs. I had what they classify as the "widow maker," which is caused by extensive blockage in the left coronary artery—the artery supplying the main blood flow to our heart muscle.

It usually takes a stress test to uncover this type of blockage. But who goes to the doctor for a stress test if they're not having symptoms? My active lifestyle—which was full of intense walking and often light jogging, plus regular workouts—proved to be my real-life stress test.

Robby and Mia Graham
Robby Graham and his wife Mia. The couple now run a plant-based restaurant together. Robby Graham

Once sedated but not unconscious, my cardiologist informed me that I had multiple blockages: the most severe being my left coronary artery. He said I needed a stent in my left, and possibly in my right, coronary artery, and others surrounding the two.

I awoke later to discover they were only able to put one in the left artery. My cardiologist then told me that I would have to make some radical changes in order to recover. Diet was the number one thing they recommended I change—I needed a lower fat intake.

Why I gave up meat

I didn't know where to start. It was about this time I received a phone call from one of my friends who happened to be plant-based. He said that I could reverse my cardiovascular disease, but I would have to give up some of the things I loved to eat, like meat and dairy products.

This was not exactly music to my ears. I have always been a carnivore, and as a former bodybuilder, I believed I would shrivel up and blow away if I didn't have meat or dairy-based protein in my diet.

Knowing I might not be easily persuaded, he sent me a book called How to Reverse and Prevent Heart Disease by Doctor Caldwell Esselstyn. Reluctantly, I began reading this book, and the more I read, the more I became convinced by the science presented.

The transition to a plant-based lifestyle was pretty easy, now I believed it could extend my life. My reasons for going plant-based were strictly because of the benefits to my body. "Veganism" is based upon a set of principles that have more to do with the treatment of animals and the planet than our health. While these things are important to me as well, I have to be alive to make a difference—and that is what matters most.

Plant-based meal
Stock image of vegetables and pulses. Robby Graham switched to a plant-based diet, and says he would never return to eating meat. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Since going plant-based, I have way more energy, I sleep better and have no more digestive issues such as indigestion, constipation or stomach pain. Furthermore, my doctors encouraged me to keep going because my blood tests have been outstanding. My cardiologist said they believed it was my plant-based diet that was responsible for
changing my physiology; it was the only change I made.

I no longer take blood pressure medication, and they have reduced my statin prescription to the bare minimum. My cholesterol dropped over 100 points in the first three months.

Now that I have been plant-based for more than four years, I feel 20 years younger; even though I'm in my 60s, I have more energy than I did in my 40s. I recently went skiing, where I worked out in the morning and skied all day, and even at high altitudes, I had no issues breathing.

I don't have any plans to ever return to my old ways. Eating meat doesn't work for me anymore. I believe I would be a fool to go back to a lifestyle that could have ended my life. I have a beautiful wife whom I love, and so much more to do in this life. If you're not alive, how can you be a blessing to others? That is all I hope to be for the remainder of my days.

Robby Graham is proprietor of Revelations Café, a plant-based, faith-based restaurant in Tampa, Florida, which he founded with his wife, Mia. Robby and Mia's story is featured in the documentary film Revelations Café: Food for the Soul, and in their book, 222 Says It Was Always You.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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