Dead From Diabetes, Then Revived and Helping Others Thrive

Mike Vee, dressed in black, in the days when he was eating meat and processed food and struggling with one health problem after another.

Mike Vee Is Transformed From Dead to Vigorous on a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet

Mike Vee is an amazing Facebook friend. I always enjoyed his posts, but when I learned he died in the emergency room and then was revived, I had to know more and wanted to share his story. Mike Vee has been working as a clinical dietitian for 25 years and presently provides medical nutritional therapy through a Federally Funded Grant for people living with HIV/AIDS in Trenton NJ. He reduced the number of meds he takes from ten to zero solely with a whole foods, plant-based diet.

What kinds of foods did you grow up eating?

Growing up as third generation Italian-Americans, our home life reflected this. We would have the prerequisite spaghetti and meatballs, veal and chicken parmigiana, escarole and beans, pork chops, flounder, beef stew, hamburgers and hot dogs and TV dinners. Most of the vegetables we ate came from a can and were heated up to a point of ashen green that shouldn’t be allowed on the color wheel in the scheme of things. My mom liked to bake more than she liked to cook and our waistlines often reflected this.

What kinds of foods do you eat now?

If it is in the plant family, I’ll eat it. Suffice to say, on occasion I do tangle with seitan and tofu to make a dish or two. The hardest thing with the diet change was actually learning how to cook all over again. It not only meant a lot more chopping and cutting but it required some forethought and planning. There were no more shortcuts with pulling something out of box and tossing it in the microwave to heat and eat in 3 minutes or less.

Initially, the web became a “best friend” in terms of searching for recipes. It is quite simple really when you just type in “vegan” in front of whatever go-to food that you are looking to make. It was essential to start out with things that I was familiar with and find ways of making vegan versions of them.

Over time, it became essential to broaden my horizons and learn to get more creative with vegetables. I delved through a number of cookbooks and found that some of them had great information but ridiculous recipes.

The Hippie Kitchen and Cooking Without Measure actually gave me the courage to get back in the kitchen and cook without turning the meals into a science project. My other go-to cookbooks include Tofu Cookery, The 30 Minute Vegan and Vegan With A Vengeance. Those books are worth their weight in gold for ease, practicality and tasty recipes.

When did you change your diet?

I first became a vegetarian back in 1984. Truth be told, I was more of a “carbohydratarian” as there weren’t too many vegetables

Mike now loves vegetables.

coming into my mouth at the time. Like many well intentioned vegetarians, there was a lot of intake of cheese and egg based dishes. Additionally, there was heavy use on a lot of the vegetarian pre-processed dinner items that could be nuked in minutes.

This lead to me eventually gaining weight and ultimately being rushed to the emergency room from work in 2000 with undiagnosed diabetes. That particular day, I happened to eat 2 pretzel sticks in my office and suddenly felt very spacey. It wasn’t a dizzy effect as much as it was feeling like I was watching a dream. I went to the nurse down the hall and asked her to check my glucose.

A pretzel snack was the near-term cause of Mike's brush with death.

The fact that the thought of pre-diabetes kept running in the back of my head made me rush to that conclusion. When she saw that the levels were pushing 900 she freaked out. Prior to this event, I had been having problems with frequent urination. My blood tests didn’t show a really abnormal blood glucose.

Most doctors see a fat person and think they are eating all the time. In truth, I ate one meal a day and snacked during the night as well. For a good few years I was running to one urologist after another who told me I had prostate problems and I was only in my mid 30’s! I kept saying I think I have pre-diabetes but the primary doctor kept shuffling me back to urologists due to the fact that the glucose levels were only elevated by a few points and didn’t think it was anything to worry about. Now they know.

What made you change your diet?

While I was in the hospital with the undiagnosed diabetes, an odd thing happened. That feeling of living in a dream remained constant but after a point, there was a tugging sensation at the back of my head. It was like my soul was being pried out of my body.

The next thing I know, I am waking up to a bunch of medical personnel around me with a crash cart. Seems I died on the table and was brought back. (I saw no bright lights, didn’t see myself floating over the table and no ugly relatives came to greet me. I was here, I was gone and I was back.)

That’s when the doctor’s said that carbs were no longer my friend. Grudgingly, it came down to me or the cow and the cow lost. The spiral continued to unwind because almost immediately afterwards, my gallbladder turned to mush and had to be removed, episodes of diverticulitis started to flair.

As much as I didn’t want to eat meat, I began to do so, right into the next crisis of a heart attack requiring 2 stents placements. There was 99% blockage in one artery and 75% blockage in the other. Only one stent was put in because I woke up in the middle of the procedure and told them to GET OUT of my body. I was done! Prior to the procedure the doctor was informed that my body eats

Like many on a typical animal foods based diet, Mike ended up on the operating table.

anesthesia so he’d best make sure I was juiced well enough. He didn’t listen and got holy hell from me from the operating table.

Throughout this period, I still hadn’t made the beneficial diet changes. I was spending upwards of $8,000 a year on medicine and doctor visit co-pays WITH insurance. None of the medications were helping. In fact, I found myself sitting at my desk at work gasping for air and finding my legs swelling with edema. I knew the downward spiral was getting worse and figured I was on borrowed time.

The event that triggered the diet change began when the disastrous BP event in the Gulf happened. I saw all those animals covered in oil and dying and it broke my heart. Right on the heels of that, there were a few slaughterhouse videos’s being posted on Facebook that I viewed. That’s when I had a wrestle with my conscience.

I became a vegetarian back in the day because I didn’t want to be a part of that cruelty. Now, it was staring me in the face yet again and I had to make the decision to change. Up to that point, the whole diabetes thing prevented me from going further. My health was already on a downward spiral so did I really want to go to the end with all that cruelty on my conscience?

I decided then and there to go back to my vegetarian roots and hope like hell to find a way to bridge the gap between nutritional status and diabetes control. Around the same time, there were many Facebook friends discussing vegan living. As a big cheese and egg lover, I thought it would be impossible to make the switch. Also, all those grains and beans would spike my glucose levels up beyond normal range.

So, each day, I told myself, just for today, I won’t have cheese or eggs. Each day I made sure to increase the vegetable intake and try to come up with palatable meals. At the time I ended up eating a LOT of vegetable soup out of desperation. Eventually, it wasn’t such a struggle as I found replacement foods to work with.

What changes have you seen in your health and weight after you changed your diet?

Mike, standing in front in this photo, has lost about 90 pounds and is still plummeting to his perfect weight without dieting, by sticking to whole plant foods.

After going vegan, I got a letter from the FDA at work about Avandia causing heart attacks. I was concerned because a few of my clients were on this so I did a bit of investigation.

To my surprise, not only was Avandia given a black box warning, but so were some of the other diabetes medications that were prescribed for me at the time. It became essential to dig deeper and all of the heart, cholesterol, diabetic and pain medications prescribed to me had side effects that amounted to an inch thick folder. I was experiencing most of these side effects and the doctors’ answers to all of this were to prescribe more pills to offset the negative effects of the last pill which induced MORE side effects.

I was done with the pills then and there. Amazingly, by just taking pharmacy grade vitamins and eating a vegan diet, I started to lose weight without trying. Presently I have 90 pounds gone. I still have a way to go but it isn’t a struggle like all other diets have been. I feel better and don’t gasp for air any longer. The leg edema went away, the headaches went away, the spondylosis in my neck stopped flaring where I couldn’t get out of bed without the expensive non-narcotic medication. Since the change, I haven’t so much as had a cold.

How much do you enjoy a diet based on whole plant foods?

It tickles me to find ways of making foods that call for animal ingredients and instead create a vegan version of it. The diet change rekindled a passion for cooking and there is a sense of satisfaction of making something and then sitting down to enjoy it, knowing how much love, time and effort went into it.

Most importantly, it is a heartwarming feeling to know that no animal had to die for that meal. The hardest thing is the cooking. I was never a wizard in the kitchen, so the thought of coming home from work to cook after a long day doesn’t sit pleasantly at the top of my “to do” list.

To combat that, I utilize my weekends to make my weekly meals and pack them up and refrigerate or freeze them as need be. This way, it’s a no brainer in the morning to yank out something for lunch for work and a no brainer to come home at night to heat up a pre-made dinner while I am changing out of my work clothes.

What keeps you going with your current food choices?

The animals. When all is said and done, I didn’t do any of this for health reasons even though I SHOULD have. It seems that the compassionate life brings with it some beneficial karma and my health improved from it all.

I’ve reached the point in my life where the tenet that ”thou shalt not kill” didn’t come with a caveat. Life is precious and we can’t buy a new one at the local mall. Once it is taken, it is gone. I have no right to take the life of an animal directly or indirectly. The only diversion from that is euthanasia if an animal is severely ill and needs to be taken from its misery.

There are some who state that there were studies conducted to indicate that plants feel too and that eating them is murder. To that I state, when I prune a plant, it still grows. Slit an animal’s neck and it is gone forever. Even beyond just the animal rights issue, we KNOW through countless studies that food from an animal base is the ONLY way to get cholesterol. Even if someone isn’t into the animal rights angle, common sense would dictate that a diet change should come about for health reasons alone.

Please share your work as a dietitian doing medical nutrition therapy and how you have changed your patients’ lives.

About 4 years ago, I was hired to provide medical nutritional therapy for HIV/AIDS clients in an urban setting. More than 90% of my clients are female and amazingly, the majority do not know how to cook.

When I first started, I had 2 cases where nothing was helping. One gentleman was in the hospital every month. The other client was a woman who looked like she was taken out of a concentration camp. At the time, I was personally utilizing pharmacy grade vitamins from a company called Wellness Resources and noticed that I was feeling better on them. The owner of the company, Byron Richards, is a certified clinical nutritionist whom I have heard lecture in the past. He’s brilliant and extremely knowledgeable about the latest advancements in nutrition science.

As a last recourse, I went to my administrator to ask if it would be possible to obtain these vitamins for these clients to at least give them a high grade vitamin since nothing else was helping. (The over the counter vitamins use cyanocobalmin as their source of B12 which is Vitamin B12 wrapped up with cyanide molecules! I wasn’t about to give people with compromised immune systems rat poison on top of everything else! )

After the green light was given and the vitamins distributed, the gentleman client hasn’t been in the hospital since and that lady filled out to normal weight. They are so busy running around now that I have to call THEM to make an appointment! With that success, I decided to try the vitamins on a few more clients and providing more plant based foods. The labs were coming back showing rises in their T-cells and a reduction of their viral loads to undetectable status.

Additionally, over time, many of the clients were taken off a number of medications because of improvements in their health and lab work. There was also a noticeable decline in the number of psych medications that some of the clients were on as their mood states stabilized.

These days, I have been educating the clients a lot more on veganism and have added the video From Farm To Fridge as part of their educational component. The videos are shown while I am packing up their groceries to take home with them. They are exposed to everything from vegan cooking videos to healthy documentaries to help them gain control of their health and their lives. With some of the longer videos, I have to show them in increments due to time constraints. I simply mark down where it was left off and upon their next visit, we go over the earlier viewed material and then continue the video where it left off.

One diabetic client was so disturbed by the From Farm To Fridge video that she said she went home and gave away her meat, milk, cheese and eggs. For a month, she only ate fruit and vegetables from a can. In the process, her diabetes became manageable for the first time ever. She was instructed that the goal wasn’t to have her eat foods from a can so she is now on a full fresh plant based diet. She has also been provided with transitional food items to keep her on course.

Clients are given easy to follow recipes along with the produce to make these dishes. They are also offered a choice of soy, rice, almond or coconut milk The transitional foods include Boca burgers, Gimme Lean, Veganaise, Galaxy Cheese and soy based cold cuts.

I’ve also had clients who vehemently resented that they weren’t getting cuts of meat any longer. I simply remind them that I am a nutritional educator not a purveyor for Shoprite. If they didn’t want to improve their health, they are wasting both of our time that could be better utilized on clients who do care about their health and want to make a change.

Not all the clients have gone the vegan route, however, the majority HAVE increased their vegetable and fruit intake and cut way back if not entirely on fast food and soda consumption Many have argued it was too expensive to go vegan. Part of the reason transitional foods are now offered is for those clients who want to make the change but feel that finances will prohibit them from doing so. If they are ready for change, help is there.

Once they saw that there would be a ways and means to continue to eat a healthy diet, they hopped on board. Some have gone vegetarian and others have significantly cut back on their meat intake. The aim is to get them to the transitional food while learning to make plant based dishes at the same time. I don’t want them living on those transitional foods because it is still processed and processed food isn’t the best option.

Intrigued? Now you can use our Whole Foods Blog Finder to target informative, fun postings on plant-based nutrition. Quick information at no cost!

Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet: How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. This easy-to-follow eating plan is built on sustainable food choices that can prevent, and even reverse, most chronic disease.



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One Response to “Dead From Diabetes, Then Revived and Helping Others Thrive”

  1. This should make a lot of people think hard. We are told a bad diet kills, but it always seems to kill somebody else and there are a lot of overweight people around who seem okay. Don’t suffer like Mike did. Time to start a healthy diet and do it now.