In the feature “Veganism Saved My Life” from our January+February issue, we highlighted five amazing stories of people who transformed their health and achieved a new lease on life by adopting a vegan diet. After watching their health deteriorate for months or years, these remarkable individuals utilized a plant-based diet for their personal restoration and relief from disease, fatigue, and pain. With the help of VegNews correspondent and Our Hen House co-founder Jasmin Singer, we spoke to three more people who revitalized their bodies and attitudes by going meat- and dairy-free.
The Meaty Midwesterner
When now-55-year-old Randy Hale was a child in Madison Park, OK, he ate the meat-heavy diet for which the Midwest is well-known. “Everything circled around beef—maybe one day a week we’d have some other meat, like chicken or some pork,” Hale recalls. “In terms of vegetables, I really only grew up eating three, which were corn, fried potatoes, and beans.” Instead of an apple or banana, he would down a spoonful of crunchy sugar right out of the jar when the craving struck for something sweet. As he grew older, Hale saw virtually everyone around him developing similar health problems. “This lifestyle was just passed down from generation to generation,” he explains. “So growing up, I expected as I aged, I would hurt like they do, I would be on medications like they were. I would have an issue with diabetes or some heart disease.”
Ten years ago, Hale experienced a self-fulfilling prophecy when he visited the doctor and discovered that he had developed high blood pressure, unsafe cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes. Although he promised his doctor that he would make changes toward improving his health, he continued to indulge in a fatty, meat-heavy diet—until he talked to his friend, Steve Ryan, who “pestered [him] about how easy this diet was, this lifestyle change.” Ryan had experienced amazing results from going vegan, and encouraged Hale to do the same. When Hale picked up a copy of Neal Barnard, MD’s Program for Reversing Diabetes, he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was willing to give it a shot.
On the 13th day of the diet, Hale began experiencing remarkable changes. His blood sugar levels had returned to normal. Hale works on a national wildlife refuge, and when he got there that day, he hiked six miles and “felt unbelievable,” in his words. Hale recalls, “Before, I would never, ever have done that, because I was all bent out of shape and heavy [and had] pains in my joints and my ankle. My arthritis was bad from my waist down, my lower back—I would be miserable, whether I was active or not. But on the 13th day, my blood sugar dropped, my energy level skyrocketed, and I didn’t hurt, so that enabled me to get out and become active.” Astounded, Hale returned to his doctor on the 21st day of his vegan diet to find that he had already lost more than 14 pounds and no longer needed his diabetes medication.
Hale has been vegan since August 2011, and in addition to losing 44 pounds himself, he has already helped more than 14 people adopt a plant-based diet. Before going vegan, Hale had never tried Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, beets, turnips, or sweet potatoes, all of which he now consumes voraciously. “It’s like there’s this big heavy dark curtain that was around me when I was growing up, and it limited my vision, so I couldn’t see myself being healthy or not being on medication or being active,” he describes. “[Now] I can see myself being healthy, living to be 95, and maybe being medication-free.” He’s also adamant in his belief that anyone can give up meat and dairy, laughing, “It’s not hard to convert from a meat-loving carnivore to a little friendlier vegan. My friends, they would think I’m the last guy to become a vegan.”
The End of Endometriosis
Katherine Lawrence was an engineer at Bell Helicopter, happily living in Fort Worth, TX. While she had an accomplished career in the United States Air Force as an aerospace engineer, Lawrence enjoyed spending much of her free time cooking and preparing gourmet, meat- and dairy-laden meals for friends, classmates, and troops. Unbeknownst to her, Lawrence was about to receive a major wake-up call that would make her reconsider how her diet and health were intertwined.
In 2006, Lawrence began to experience severe pain in her abdomen. After months of tests, she was diagnosed with severe endometriosis, a female reproductive disorder that causes overgrowth of tissue in the pelvic area and localized cysts, causing pain, irregular bleeding, and possibly infertility. Seeing no other alternatives, Lawrence’s doctor sadly informed her that there was no cure for her condition, and suggested that she pursue surgery and a hysterectomy to alleviate her pain. Faced with the prospect of never being able to have children, she researched holistic medicine and sought alternatives, eventually making the decision to switch from the Standard American Diet to a low-fat, plant-based regimen.
After only five weeks on a vegan diet, Lawrence saw major results, as her doctor informed her that 95 percent of her endometriosis had disappeared. Her doctor was also shocked to find that within a matter of months, her reproductive system had healed, and additionally, she sported lower cholesterol, clearer skin, and shrinking fibroid cysts in her breasts. Within two years, Lawrence was able to conceive and give birth to a healthy (vegan) baby boy. In addition to being able to start a family, she lost 40 pounds and improved her overall health.
Astounded by the effects of a plant-based lifestyle, Katherine pursued a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University’s online program, being accepted as an instructor for nonprofit The Cancer Project in 2008. Recently, Katherine has offered her vegan culinary expertise for the web cooking series Delectable Planet, and assists a program for insurance-company Geico that aims to inform its employees about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
The Leukemia Survivor
In 1983, when she was 26 years old, Christina Pirello (then Hayes) was given a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia and told she had six to nine months to live. “I had just watched my mother die at 49 of colon cancer,” Pirello remembers, “and I knew I could not go through that.” It was her mother’s suffering with conventional medicine, followed by her ultimate and untimely demise, that caused a terrified Pirello to make the decision to not pursue allopathic treatment. Her doctor saw no hope, and neither did she.
Around that time, a friend introduced her to a man who, according to Christina, “thought he might have advice that could help me save my life.” Robert Pirello—who would later become her husband—had been a long proponent and follower of a vegan macrobiotic diet, high in whole grains, lightly cooked vegetables, legumes, seaweed, healthy fats, and miso. “Robert ate this weird diet and said it could cure cancer. I was skeptical, obviously.” So were her doctors, who told her that regardless of what treatment she pursued, she should get her affairs in order.
Christina had been vegetarian since she was 14, but ate a lot of processed foods, making sure they were “loaded with butter and cheese.” It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with cancer that she even considered the effect that dairy had on health, and, thanks to Robert’s guidance, understood the healing that can come with a balanced diet full of nutrient-rich foods. She also found a community in her town of Philadelphia, and started attending weekly dinners and lectures that focused on the benefits of a macrobiotic diet. To her astonishment, her body started to heal itself. “The vegan macrobiotic approach to eating changes the pH of your blood, creating an alkalized body and blood chemistry—as opposed to acidic, which we are when we are ill,” she explains. “By alkalizing the blood, you can alter the pH and create an atmosphere where your body can heal from any number of conditions.”
This radical shift in her diet led to a radical recovery. “After about eight months of ups and downs, into remission and out, I stayed in remission, moved into what they called spontaneous regression, and after 14 months, was declared cancer-free.”
Pirello’s transformation led her to study Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, pursue a Masters Degree in Nutrition, and eventually found The Christina Pirello School of Natural Cooking and Integrative Health Studies in Philadelphia. “Now I teach cooking all over the world,” Christina beams. “People want to be healthy. I am convinced they are just confused and lost in information overload. If I can just show them simple truths, proven by science, they can change.”
These three survivors and countless others have literally saved their own lives with a plant-based diet. Want to know more about a vegan diet’s medical miracles? Check out a few of our favorite sites about healing through the power of a healthy eating regimen.