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Paul Chatlin: From Heart Failure to Plant-Based Hero

Written by Meg Donahue
Paul Chatlin: From Heart Failure to Plant-Based Hero

Paul Chatlin didn’t intend to change the world; he just wanted to get through a day without worrying about having a heart attack. But as often is the case, great pain can inspire new insights and shifts in perspective. And when this perfect storm – where catastrophe, insight, energy, and passion collide – a new and stronger future for all of us can emerge.

Sick and getting sicker

At 55 years old, Paul received a dooming medical diagnosis. His heart was failing rapidly. Cardiac catherization revealed one artery was 100% blocked, two others were 65% blocked. With a family history of unsuccessful outcomes from heart disease, the future did not look bright. This was especially difficult because five years earlier, at 50, Paul had resolved to change his diet by cutting out meat, whole milk, and olive oil, and here he was at 55 with a dismal heart prognosis. What had gone wrong?

It began with crushing chest pain and shortness of breath. Paul knew this feeling was not normal. He’d hoped he could just work it out, literally, by working out a little harder, which made matters worse. Soon he could barely walk across the room without getting out of breath.

Out of options and exhausted, Paul finally told his wife and family what was going on. He was more than just a little under the weather; something was seriously wrong.

An unlikely solution

Luckily, Paul’s wife, Tracey, had a connection at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, and he was able to get an appointment quickly. He was assigned to a cardiologist whose mentor just happened to be Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of the seminal work on heart health, Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease.

After the exploratory catherization and still in the recovery room, Paul’s doctor asked him if he was ready for an option other than surgery. Paul agreed to hear him out and at 9:30 that night his doctor got on the phone with Dr. Esselstyn.

Paul says, “He handed me the phone, and I heard, ‘Hi Paul, this is Dr. Esselstyn. I think I can help you. So go on home and I will call you first thing in the morning.’ Here I was on the gurney in the recovery room and I thought, ‘God if you get me out of this one, I’ll give something back.’”

The next day at 8 a.m., Dr. Esselstyn called. And that’s when his journey began. “Dr. Esselstyn saved my life,” Paul says.

Dr. Esselstyn recommended following a whole food plant-based diet: no meat, no dairy, no oil, and no nuts.

Paul didn’t waste any time taking Dr. Esselstyn’s advice. “I got rid of all the junk and processed food in the house immediately.

Like many people who are trying to change their diet and not finding successful health outcomes, Paul didn’t really realize how unhealthy his previous eating habits were until he transitioned to whole, plant-based foods. “What amazed me is that I never realized there was all this bad stuff in most of the food I ate.”

Paul was home on bed rest for three months. He followed the recommended diet and soon his health started to improve. Within a couple of months his cholesterol went from 347 to 127 and his weight from 220 to 160. His energy improved dramatically.

Oddly, even though he was physically recovering, Paul felt a creeping emptiness in his life. A catastrophic health event had changed him and he wondered, “Is this it? I sleep, figure out what to eat, figure out how to make the food, sleep again. I don’t want my life to revolve around food…” That’s when he decided to really dive in and figure out how to live and eat this way. He wanted to act on the promise he’d made in the recovery room; he wanted to give something back.

Never underestimate a dreamer

After a few false starts, Paul started to get the hang of whole food plant-based living. He realized he probably wasn't the only person to struggle as they transitioned to whole, plant-based food. He wanted to share what he'd learned so far in his health journey and build a support network of sorts. He put a small ad in the paper and 20 people responded. Before long he founded the Plant-Based Nutrition Support Group (PBNSG). Michigan-based, and in it's sixth year, PBNSG has nearly 8000 members. The group promotes plant-based nutrition through meetings, seminars, over 54 small groups, a new education initiative called PBNSG-U and an upcoming Health Coaching App.

While Paul was making good on his promise, of giving back and educating people, there was still more to do.

“Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.” - Richard Bach

As he said, “The great moments in history are when you change the paradigm. The future can be a lot brighter than it is now. When you eat plant-based you prevent and reverse disease...AND you also address the environment, the humanitarian impact of saving a lot of animals who are otherwise being killed in terrible ways.”

How the heck can plant-based nutrition change the world?

How do you get an entire nation to go from eating foods that hurt to foods that heal? Paul says he’d always worked closely with the medical community, but he saw a gaping hole in the medical school curriculums. “Why, if we have all of this research and documented results of the healing power of eating a whole food plant-based diet, is it not being taught in medical schools?”

Paul say one place to change the paradigm is with medicine. "I want all medical students to have a solid understanding of the science of Plant-Based Nutrition.”

His group is working on a Medical School curriculum change with medical students at Wayne State, Eastern Michigan, Oakland University, Michigan State Universities, and the University of Michigan medical school.

As of now, they've got material for a medical course and it's being presented to Wayne State Medical School to see if it might fit into their curriculum.

"We talked to 2200 medical students…think about that. These medical students could go on to save millions of lives over their lifetime. I wake up every day feeling like I’m playing with house money. If we continue doing this [and expand to more and more schools] maybe those millions of lives can be billions of lives, which means we’ll also save more animals and we'll help to even save the planet."

Paul Chatlin harnessed the winds of his misfortune to fuel a promise to give back. He wanted to help others experience the gift of life he received that night on a hospital gurney not long ago. PBNSG is already helping thousands of people change their lives and health. And his work to include lifesaving peer-reviewed WFPB nutrition information in the medical school nutrition curriculum across the US is taking root - and helping him make good on that promise. 

Read more about PBNSG here.


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