For Darrell, a heart attack led him to recovery at the Eat to Live Retreat

January 20, 2020 by Dr. Fuhrman Staff

Darrell was a retired physician who knew his unhealthy diet was killing him, but promised himself he’s eat right “someday.” But after suffering a heart attack and facing major surgery, he remembered reading about Dr. Fuhrman’s protocol for reversing heart disease with nutritional excellence. He booked a stay at the Eat to Live Retreat – and the experience changed his life. For more information about booking your stay at the ETL Retreat, call 949-432-6295. 

“My long love for the standard American diet has now changed. I still love food, just plant food.”

We were sitting down for dinner, celebrating all our August birthdays. I had been working in the heat all afternoon, and had not been drinking water. All of a sudden, I felt bad; nothing specific, just bad. But as we started to eat, I felt worse, experiencing substernal chest pain radiating up into my neck and jaw. It was the classic symptoms of a heart attack. I went to lie down, and drank lots of cool water, hoping it would resolve. After five minutes of resting, I had to admit to myself this was not going away. I got up and interrupted the meal. “Call 911,” I said. “I’m having a heart attack.”

For months, if not years, I knew my eating style was going to catch up to me. I was turning 61 years old, and that’s a long time to be eating anything and everything I desired. I loved food. My weight had crept up to 256 pounds, my knees hurt, my back was swaying forward, and I had a beach ball gut.  I had been telling my wife, “I have to stop eating this way, I feel like I’m eating myself to death.”  Additionally, my blood pressure had been creeping up over the years – 160’s/90’s.  So, almost every day, I told myself, “tomorrow, I’m going to start eating right.” As a retired physician, it was not a matter of knowledge.  I knew what to do, but my love of food was stronger than my knowledge.

After being diagnosed with a heart attack in the emergency room, I was sent for an angiogram. The resultant images were sobering: I had around 90% blockage in multiple coronary arteries.  And there 17 blockages – too many for stents.  My cardiologist recommended surgery: coronary artery bypass grafting. As I lay in the coronary care unit of our local hospital, I was terrified.  I’ve known many folks who’ve been through the surgery, and it seemed they were never the same afterward.  After all, the chest is sawed open to expose the heart for sewing in new vessels harvested from the legs.  And while they survived, they never seemed healthy.  Almost to a person, they all still seemed to progressively decline and eventually die of heart disease.

I had read some of Dr. Fuhrman’s books, including Eat to Live, and so knew of the data showing reversal of heart disease, not just amelioration of symptoms. My cardiologist was adamant that surgery was the best option for me. My hospitalist also encouraged surgery, especially when I discussed the alternative I was considering. Members of my family also pressured me to have surgery. So the pressure was mounting.

Nearing my decision, Dr. Fuhrman called me at the behest of my doctor sister-in-law. Dr. Fuhrman talked me down off the “surgery ledge.”  He shared with me his clinical experience with patients even more sick than I was. He had seen hundreds of patients get well without surgery. His calming voice was just what I needed to clear my mind and make a decision.

He invited me to his Eat to Live Retreat out in San Diego, California, where people could come to relax and eat fine, nutrient-dense, plant-based meals prepared by chefs. He would be there most of the time to watch me during my recovery. The retreat offered exercise classes, yoga, massage therapy, and psychotherapy.

While talking with Dr. Fuhrman on the phone, it dawned on me that the money I would spend for the retreat in San Diego would be about the same, if not less than my copay for the CABG, hospitalization, and rehab. At that point it was a no brainer. I was flying to California.

I was still quite afraid when I first arrived.  But Dr. Fuhrman examined me, took my medical history, and got me going with the program immediately. During my stay, I interacted with the chefs often, learning what and how to cook. Their meals were amazing. After a couple of weeks eating this way, I had already made the changes necessary to live a long, healthy life. My taste buds had changed, my weight was plunging, and my blood pressure had normalized. The need for medications was greatly diminished.  Every day I would wake up to beautiful sunshine and pleasant weather, eat delightful meals, lounge by the infinity swimming pool, and go for long leisurely walks in the nature preserve next-door. My exercise tolerance was increasing noticeably.

The retreat was such a great place to stay while getting over the initial shock of having a heart attack.  Everyone there had health issues, from cancer to diabetes to autoimmune disease. The support we gave each other was both comforting and enjoyable. 

Has change been easy? Actually, yes. When someone you love turns on you and tries to kill you, it changes your relationship with them.  My long love for the standard American diet has now changed.  I still love food, just plant food.  And my meals are as luxurious as ever, thanks to what Dr. Fuhrman and the chefs at Eat to Live Retreat taught me.

I’ve been home for 4 months now and my weight loss has continued. I lost 66 pounds in the last five months; I went from 256 to 190 pounds, and I am still losing weight each week. More importantly, I not only do not need heart surgery, but I need no medication anymore and I feel the best I have felt in the last 40 years. I was lucky – but I am also proud of myself for making the right decision and sticking with it. 


Comments (0):



01/22/2020 03:18 PM

Darrell, thank you for sharing such a powerfully person story about your own heart attack, a near-death experience that you were able to avoid thanks to the three "F's": Family, Friends, and Dr. Fuhrman!  

I think a lot of people are like you have described yourself, 'knowing' that your eating habits and overall lifestyle are harmful, knowing also what to do, but failing to make the essential changes necessary.  Fortunately for you you survivied your heart attack and took the steps necessary to turn things around.  I hope your recovery continues and that you continue to lose weight, clear out those clogged arteries and continue on the path of improving health and well-being!  And to anyone who also knows they have bad eating habits, chronic health conditions, and a deteriorating quality of life as a result, I urge them to consider to take all necessary steps to turn things around, possibly even attend one of Dr. Fuhrman's celebrated retreats like the one which has been so effective for you.  Health and best wishes to you and yours on your continuing journey!



01/22/2020 04:42 PM

Very inspiring n uplifting!  Thx for posting this.  We attended a retreating CA in July of 2019 n my husband n I are both ready for a kick-start!  


01/22/2020 05:42 PM

What a another great and inspiring story!  I absolutely love and continue to eat this way myself now on 10 and half months.  I have lost 35 pounds (currenly 157, my height is 5' 7and half and 61 years old), blood pressure today 125/70 mid day but has been 114/67 (1/18/20),116/65 (1/17/20) and 117/70 (1/16/20) over the last week.  I was 190/105 when I started this program.  Working out 6 days a week with weights and alternating 5.5 mile runs and one hour spin classes.  I am going to keep going!  Thank you Dr. Fuhman!



01/22/2020 05:50 PM

This is an amzing story. So glad that you made the change for yourself.

Wendy F.

01/22/2020 06:15 PM

This story reminds me of a good friend we have. Brian had quad by-pass over 10 years ago. He was a social studies teacher in a boarding school in our area. Him and his wife were standard American diet eaters. Well, we got them both started on the McDougall plan which we were doing at the time, and Brian began to lose weight and was looking good. BUT he didn't stick with it. They went to live at the school as dorm parents and went back to eating a typical SAD diet. Well, one day he was walking uphill at the school and began experiencing chest pains. Long story short, this was Wednesday and by Monday of the following week he was on the table getting quad by-pass. I went to visit him at the hospital and for his first meal after surgery, he was given--get this---pork roast with mashed potatoes and gravy! 

He was hospitalized for 1 week and his wife and I got him home. Naturally, I told him he needed to go back to eating plant based big time. He did for a while, but again it didn't stick. Unfortunately, today him and his wife are divorced. And guess what he's eating today? A Keto diet!! We haven't seen him in quite a while, and while we've learned he's lost about 38 pounds what's the cost here? A Keto diet is about the WORST thing for a heart patient! But you can't talk to him. We learned the hard way that by-pass patients are never the same after that kind of surgery. 

A year or two after we met these folks we introduced them to the nutritarian way of eating which I'd discovered because I kept seeing Dr. Fuhrman's name on Dr. McDougall's discussion board. After reading a few of Dr. Fuhrman's books, we switched plans. We did get these folks to try the nutritarian plan and they did it for a while, but again it didn't stick. How unfortunate. 

I congratulate Darrell because surgery would have been the easy way out. Get the surgery, go home and go back to eating what made you sick in the first place! Sure makes a lot of sense doesn't it? As I tell folks, things like heart disease can be reversed with the right eating plan. Way to go Darrell!! 


01/22/2020 08:51 PM

Congratulations on your wonderful sucess, and Life Style change....You look amazing!


01/23/2020 09:15 AM

I am very happy for you.  Thanks for sharing your  inspiring story.



Mark G.

01/23/2020 11:51 AM

I would love to hear what your cardioligist thinks about your "natural" recovery.  



01/23/2020 02:34 PM

Thank you for sharing and congrats on your life changes! I have been trying to get a family member to quit the SAD before he has a heart attack  but he keeps eating badly, especially fast food.  Your story reminded me that even when you know better, you can be so addicted to the SAD that you just cannot get up the strength or will to make the change. I will keep working on him.


01/23/2020 03:28 PM

Congratulations, Darrell. about 13 years ago I had two blocked arteries and opted for the strict version of Dr. Fuhrman's program (6-week plan) and cleared out my arteries in 18 months. I'm still on the 6-week plan and going strong. The only medication I take is my food. You did the right thing.


01/25/2020 06:41 PM

Congratulations on your success.  As a clinical nurse specialist I was nervous for you without surgery but so thrilled for you that you were able to go to this retreat and turn your life around.  I am on a similar journey and the effort is big but the results kind of slow.  Take care and thanks for the inspiration.  Barbara 



01/26/2020 04:47 AM

Congratulation on your amazing success. I hope you are proud of what you have achieved. Being able to go to Dr. Fuhrman’s retreat must have been an incredible experience. You are very fortunate on many levels. I wish you continued success with your journey, and vibrant health for you to enjoy.well done.


07/26/2020 03:30 PM

This is a very inspiring story.  It moved me so much.  I've been following Dr. Fuhrman's plan since 2012, and it has changed my life, too.  However, I was never in the position you were, but I believe I was headed in that direction for sure.  At age 49 in early 2012, my 6.0 medium frame carried around 210 pounds, and was starting to spike up above that. My blood pressure was border line high, and I had elevated cholesterol and heart palpitations.  Once I had fully transitioned to Dr. Fuhrman's diet 100% in January 2013, over the next 1-2 years, I slowly lost a total of 52 pounds, and everything else stablilized to ideal indicators.  Last year when under considerable stress at work, I unfortunately gained back some of the original weight (up 20 lbs), because I had become sloppy in following the diet.  A 100% return to it this past fall, has returned my weight to the range where it belongs, 160-165.  Thank you for sharing your story, and for reminding all of us about the joy and benefits of following this program 100%!


12/31/2020 11:18 PM

Wow, inspiring. So thankful that there is a place where  people can truly get well. Now I just want to come here. 😊❤️


02/04/2021 06:23 PM

Beautiful story.  I hope to be where you are and going.  Life is a real challenge.


06/07/2021 10:09 PM

This is an absolutely amazing story!!!  Praise God for seeing you through your journey and Dr. Fuhrman's love for helping individuals live a Nutritarian lifestyle.


06/07/2022 01:13 PM

Thanks so much to all your comments! I'm still here, alive and well. No surgery!

Thought I'd post an update, to maybe encourage and inform what it has been like.

The first 18 months were strict, eating just like I was taught at the ETL Retreat in San Diego.  I lost 80 lbs. Then I began to fudge by occasionally snacking on nuts, or broccoli and hummus. Shockingly, I regained 23 lbs by September '21. That was my wake up call. I was still eating Nutritarian, but I wasn't following Joel's advice about snacking. Boy is that a slippery slope. Don't Do It!!! I'm still eating Nutritarian, and eliminating between meal snacking. Down 10 lbs.

Last summer I was hiking in Colorado, at over 12K feet, Independence Pass. I was only slightly winded, but not as much as I had been a few years ago. What I would consider normal for 12K feet. So I know for a fact my coronaries have opened up some, or at least I've developed good collaterals. I also hiked part of the Appalachian Trail this last weekend, and again was less winded than my family. No surgery. No drugs. I've not had any episodes of angina since that August 2019, and my blood pressure is typically 110/60 now.

Once I get my weight totally back down to where Joel says I should be, I'll send an updated photo. That kind of thing helps encourage me, and hopefully you too.

vbpets replies:

07/23/2022 11:14 PM

Can you say what they did for you in the hospital since you didn't do surgery? Did you just leave A.M.A. or was there some supportive care you received? If you were in such pain from the acute heart attack does it just stop all by itself and that's that?