Vail Daily letter: Vail’s healthy image |

Vail Daily letter: Vail’s healthy image

It was 12 years ago at about this time of year, while riding my Trek 1220 bicycle up some steep hills in Pittsburgh, that I started developing shortness of breath. I could no longer catch up with the “old guys.”

After a couple weeks of this, and strongly urged by my riding partners, I finally visited my physician to review my symptoms. He scheduled a stress test, which was positive, and quickly after a cardiac catheterization.

Since I appeared quite healthy, I was told if there was a blockage it could be ballooned open or stented, allowing me to return quickly to normal activity. When I awoke from the procedure, I was told that unfortunately I had severe blockages in too many places; stenting was not an option. Quadruple bypass soon followed and I became a member of what is known as the “Zipper Club” for my new chest incision scar.

When permitted, I started a cardiac rehab program and while on the treadmill I experienced chest pain that I never had before the surgery. The staff immediately stopped my exercising and sent me back to the doctor for further evaluation. Three of my four bypass grafts had occluded, and in my case I was not a candidate for repeat bypass surgery. I was to be treated with medication, and my activities greatly reduced.

During the next several weeks, while advising friends of my status, I received a return email from a friend in Prague, Czech Republic. He had a friend in Berlin, Germany, with heart problems whose doctor was giving all his patients a book called “Reversing Heart Disease” by a U.S. physician named Dr. Dean Ornish.

After reading Dr. Ornish’s book, I discovered a structured program nearby, the “Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease.” Fourteen months after my bypass surgery, and then having my lifestyle severely curtailed, I entered the second cohort of the program in Pittsburgh.

The Ornish Program is fairly intense, involving exercise, stress management, group support and a low-fat vegetarian diet. While the diet is often focused on, it is a well-rounded lifestyle program. I became a vegetarian not because I didn’t want to kill cows, pigs and chickens, but because I didn’t want them killing me. And I went from being significantly limited in what I could physically tolerate, to skiing all winter in Vail.

Since completing Dr. Ornish’s program I have discovered other experts declaring similar advice, from T. Colin Campbell’s “The China Study” and books by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Neal Barnard, to DVD’s like “Forks over Knives” and websites like While research gets stronger supporting a whole-foods, plant-based diet, the evidence supporting exercise, stress management and social support also continues to grow.

This brings me to my personal goal for Vail, the town I call home for six months of the year. If we continue to advertise Vail as “the world wide destination for health and well being,” we need to support that on numerous fronts. That includes restaurants offering healthier options, even highlighted on the menu. Restaurants do not need to be vegetarian, but offering some vegetarian and low-fat options is good for business, and reinforces Vail’s advertised image.

Hank Mader

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