Ode to My Dad with Congestive Heart Failure and Recovering with a Plant Based Diet

Ode to My Dad with Congestive Heart Failure and Recovering with a Plant Based Diet

My dad is arguably one of the most kind-hearted people on the planet.

If you ask anyone who knows him, they will agree without hesitation.

My mom had been married and divorced three times before meeting my dad, and she had three kids when they met. The two of them fell in love at first sight, and it’s been on ever since. This year marked 40 years of the two loving each other (and, of course, sometimes annoying the shit out of each other).

Mom says that she had had it with men before she met my dad. And then my dad showed up, and she was like, Well, fuck.

There are many things that I love and admire about my pops.


Every time he leaves me a voicemail; this is what he says:

“Hi Molly, this is your papa. You must be out. I’ll try back later.”

Now, my dad knows he’s leaving a message on my cell phone, but the fact that he says “you must be out” tells me that he has yet to fully accept that landlines and answering machines are a thing of the past.

Getting a voicemail from my dad makes me happy every time. And then I make sure always to have at least one of his messages saved so I can listen to his voice when he’s dead. The guy isn’t sick or anything, I’m just neurotic and like to plan ahead.


When people mistake him for Willie Nelson, which they often do, he goes along with it, complete with an autograph. The more you know my dad, the more sense I start to make.


When he and my mom go on a hike, and I ask him about it, he sometimes says: “It was good, but there were lots of old people on the trail hogging it and going slow.” I casually ask him how old are we talkin’? and he says, “I don’t know, 70?”

He’s 68, and my mom is 72. You do the math.


His love of music and vinyl. My dad’s a music guy. Just last week we went to jam to Brandi Carlile together. He made the comment, “I’m the oldest dude here”. I told him he was correct and that he needs a prize in the form of a walker. We laughed.

He introduced me to Bob Marley, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Neil Young – all the greats.

Dad took me to some of my first concerts. Pink Floyd, The Stones, Neil Young – he wanted to make sure good music was part of my foundation. When I went through my New Kids on the Block phase, he was sure he had failed. I eventually came around.

Most of all, I love that through all the bat-shit crazy choices I’ve made in my life, my dad has been supportive, loving, compassionate, and there for me 110%. I could tell the man anything, and I know with certainty that he would never judge me and would love me through it (and my mom is the exact same way).

I don’t know what I did to get such a solid set of parents, but I did something right, that’s for damn sure.

On December 6th, 2013 dad almost died due to congestive heart failure.

Mom called me at 5:30am the next morning and told me that she had been with him all night in the ER, and after 12 hours, they were finally able to stabilize him. Luanne and I were on a plane 2 hours later (we were in Oakland, and they were in New Mexico).

We arrived later that night and visiting hours in the ICU were over, so we had to wait until the next day to see him. We visited mom, hugged her, cried with her, and had a restless night’s sleep.

The next morning we booked it to the hospital, walked into the ICU, found his room and I hugged him like I had never hugged him before. I have never taken one second of my dad for granted since that moment.

It ended up he had to be transferred to a hospital 3 hours away by ambulance where there was a hospital and doctors who could do the procedure that he needed. The operation went smoothly.

His doctors told him that he would be on medication for the rest of his life, and they needed to see him every month for the first three months and every three months after that for congestive heart failure.

Mom and dad said goodbye to the small town that had been home for 35 years, as well as the house that the two of them had built by hand. They needed to be closer to a good hospital, his doctors, and an airport should his daughters need to quickly fly in if there was another emergency.

My dad is from Wisconsin, and that was always obvious based on his love of cheese, deli meats, beer, and football.

From the moment dad got out of the hospital, he and my mom were on a mission to do everything in their power to ensure he never went through that again. From then on, it was green smoothies, no salt, soups, salads, and nothing but whole plant based foods (well, not entirely – there is still beer in his life – just not as much).

He left the hospital with five different prescription medications that he was to take daily.

One month after his release, he was taken off every single one of his medications. His doctors couldn’t believe his recovery from congestive heart failure. They still can’t.

Every time dad goes in for his heart checkups, now just once a year, the nurses and doctors are stunned that he isn’t on one single medication and that his heart is in such good shape, especially considering he had congestive heart failure less than two years ago.

When he was admitted into the ER in December 2013, his ejection fraction was at 15%. Today it’s at a very healthy 70%. His doctor always tells him to keep doing whatever he’s doing. To this, dad says, “Okay, I’ll keep walking, swimming, and eating healthy vegan food every day,” and then he plugs my website.

Sometimes it takes going through really scary shit before people are ready to change. And if they’re lucky, they get the chance. And when this happens, the trajectory of their life changes forever. This experience with congestive heart failure certainly changed my dad’s life.

Dad was always a hard-working guy. He built houses, landscaped, gathered and sold firewood – all very physically demanding stuff. After his heart episode, the reality set in that he had to slow down. This was both welcomed and challenging for him. It also opened the door to a new chapter in his life.

Back in the 70s dad used to make collages. He started this after he got back from serving in the Vietnam war. I always thought his art might be a form of therapy, but I’ve never asked him about this because I was told not to talk to my dad about the war when I was little. So it’s not something that I bring up. I only know that he has two purple hearts and a bronze star medal and that after the war, he moved to Colorado and embraced the hippie life.

A couple of months after he got out of the hospital, I remembered that he used to make art, and I asked him if he would make a collage for me. He hadn’t made one in over 30 years, but two weeks later, I had a badass collage hanging on my wall.

To my surprise, he didn’t stop. He would collect used boards that were going to be tossed out, clean them up and then start cutting out images from random magazines, newspapers, flyers, etc. and create colorful pieces of art. He kept making them like he had been doing it his whole life. Eventually, he started selling them, and even made personalized pieces for art collectors and shipped them as far as Hong Kong.

So this is now what he does. He makes art. He swims. He walks. He listens to vinyl. He drinks green smoothies and eats healthy, Molly-approved food.

And he does it all with a healthy heart.

Not all stories have a happy ending. Every single day I am grateful that this one does.

Thank you, dad, for being the best dad anyone could ever ask for and for sticking around – I love you.

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Our Sweary Saturday Love Letters are written by our ex-boozer, ex-smoker, plant-loving co-founder, Molly Patrick.


  1. Rami on October 11, 2015 at 10:54 am

    What a beautiful post! I love how much you love and respect your father.

    • Molly Patrick on October 11, 2015 at 1:30 pm

      Thank you!

      • Abbas Tabatabaie on August 26, 2018 at 7:58 pm

        5 stars
        I have 2 amazing daughters. I’m sure your dad knows how lucky he is to have an amazing daughter, such as you. I really enjoyed your true story. Thanks for sharing it.

        • Molly Patrick on August 26, 2018 at 8:01 pm

          He knows it and he’s not shy to tell me.
          I am very blessed.

  2. Nicole on October 19, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Wow…absolutely beautiful post! So great to hear about a loving father/daughter relationship! Potato salad looks great too…Can’t wait to try it!

  3. Anna on January 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    What a lovely tribute to your dad. I know what you mean about saving phone messages so you’ll have his voice. Do one better — sit down with him one Sunday afternoon and ask him to tell you about what it was like to be a kid back in the day. Record it. I did that with my mom and it’s now the one thing I would grab if the house were on fire. It’s like listening to a book about a world that was so different from the one I grew up in.

    Oh. And the tater salad sounds scrumptious. I’d given up on mayo dressed salads when I quit dairy, but this sounds like the perfect fix. Thank you!

    • Molly Patrick on January 15, 2016 at 2:51 am

      Hi Anna –

      I love this – I think I will do exactly the same.
      ps – try this potato salad, it’s super yum!

    • Juanita Franklin on May 13, 2021 at 4:21 am

      I suggest this to people all the time! I did it with my mamá and wish I would have thought of it before my daddy passed away in the ’80s. I have audio and video of my mamá talking about her childhood in Mexico, her and my daddy’s courtship, their immigration to America, raising us kids (I don’t remember much, so this is really special), and so much more. We did the same with my beautiful MIL last year and she passed in October.

  4. Jill McGEE on May 9, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Mollie you have truly been blessed and I admit I am envious of you. My one redeaming factor is that my family are the total opposite of how I was brought up and we tell each other every day how much we love them. My parents were cold and critical and it has really had a bad impact on myself confidence. My husband and I have done everything in our power to bring our daughters up in the complete opposite enviroment. I can’t take the story they didn’t know any better if I could change so could they

    • Molly Patrick on May 9, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Hey Jill –
      Good for you for taking the high road and using your negative experiences to make a positive impact on the way that your daughters are raised. My mom had a terrible childhood and vowed to give her children the opposite. And that she did.
      Keep kicking ass!

  5. Mimi on March 7, 2017 at 3:36 am

    I love reading all your posts, but this one really hit home. Your tribute to your dad was beautiful. I’m so glad he made it through his health crisis and is a thriving 70-something.

    I’m also from Wisconsin, and can relate to the beer, sausage, and cheese consumption. It’s so cold and dark in the winter, I think that’s what we do to cope! When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44, I tried to figure out what went wrong. Despite my eating habits, I’d always been a healthy weight. If I was skinny, I was healthy, was my mind set.

    Your site and other sources helped me realize consuming animal products is harmful to our health. In fact, heart disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer is higher in Wisconsin than other parts of the nation.

    I’m feeling great now, 2 years from my diagnosis, thanks to a whole-food, plant-based diet. I can’t thank you enough for helping me turn my health around! Your wisdom, recipes, sense of humor, and compassion, led me to vegan cooking, Dr. Fuhrman, and a whole new perspective on how we treat animals. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    • Clean Food Dirty Girl on March 7, 2017 at 5:30 am

      Thank you for sharing your story Mimi. So glad to hear that you’re thriving on a whole food plant based diet! 🙂

      Team Dirty Girl

  6. Trish on March 11, 2017 at 8:27 am

    I usually skip straight to the recipe but I was intrigued by your blog name! Then seeing an ode to your dad, loved the read, very honest, funny and touching. Your dad is an inspiration, never too old to change. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  7. Veronica on April 13, 2017 at 5:49 am

    It was lovely to read your story, very inspirational. Your parents sound like wonderful people.

    If this salad is best served cold I cant even imagine how awesome it’s going to be. I just cooked up a batch, couldn’t wait long enough for it to cool, and OMG it’s amazing.

    Thank you.

  8. Kathy Follin-Jackson on May 29, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Just wanted to say I truly enjoyed your post about your Dad. Awesome.

  9. Mary W on August 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    5 stars
    What a beautiful post about your father. I was also very close to my father, my hero. Unfortunately he died about 4 years ago of heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure. I went completely plant based a few months later. I only wish I had discovered this way of eating and had been able to share the benefits with my own Dad, maybe he would still be with us. Cherish your time with your parents, it is truly priceless. P.S- your potato salad sounds delicious!

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl on September 5, 2017 at 7:11 am

      Hi Mary W – thanks for the nice comment and sharing. We wish you the best on your wfpb journey and you should definitely try the potato salad!

      Team Dirty Girl

      • Erica Whitmore on July 21, 2021 at 3:45 pm

        5 stars
        Tried this last night and loved it ???
        I just discovered you and your website. Looking forward to trying more recipes. ??

  10. Crissy on March 14, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    Wow, I am new to your site and am so glad I came across this post. It brought me to tears, thank you for your honesty. I hope your dad has read this!!

    • Molly Patrick on March 14, 2018 at 10:28 pm

      Thank you Crissy.
      I think my dad has read this, but I better email it to my mom and make sure!

  11. Bev on May 2, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    5 stars
    Thank you for this beautiful post! And WOW – I absolutely love the potato salad (finally…no vegan cheese!) and your dad’s collage is amazing!! I feel inspired 🙂

  12. Courtney on May 28, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    5 stars
    Incredible! Beyond delicious.

  13. Christi on June 7, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    5 stars
    Wow! My heart needed this! And our taste buds too-
    My husband went through this in November 2017. It’s been 6 months. We have 6 daughters under 10 years old. And 1 baby boy. All I can say is I hope my girls talk about their daddy the way you do yours when they are grown. THANKING God he is still here to eat potato salad on fathers day!!
    He essentially had a Widow make heart attack at 2am and I woke up to him suffoctaing and stopped breathing. He went unconscious and I had to do 911 and CPR while our 6 year old watched and let paramedics in.
    A stent procedure was put in and he remained unconscious for 5 days. Once his balloon pump was removed he had to have breathing tube removed when us lungs finally worked and then watched for brain damage since he had lost oxygen for minutes before I started CPR.
    But hes here. Hes whole. Thank you for reminding me that this daddy has a lot more to impress on his 6 daughters and to cherish it all.
    Oh yeah and plant based since we left therapy in Dec ’17. His labs have been amazing! Getirng another draw next week! Plants rule!!!

    • Molly Patrick on June 10, 2018 at 1:04 am

      I am so happy for you and your family that your guy is still here.
      What a horrendously scary night for you and your kiddos.
      Thank you for sharing and keep up the plants!

  14. Courtney on August 27, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    I also always made sure to keep a voicemail from my dad. I did it for years. He died almost a year ago. I still have that voicemail. My advice – keep more than one. One is not enough.

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl on August 28, 2018 at 6:31 am

      Thanks for sharing, Courtney <3 ~Karen

  15. Deb on September 21, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    5 stars
    Best. Story. Ever. Made my day 🙂

  16. Carole on June 24, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    Molly, I am new to the group and can so relate to your Dad! In Fall 2012 a virus attacked my heart and my EF went to 10% overnight. By February 1 I had an ICD defibrillator implant put in.
    Then my husband died in 2017. A ton of grief. Now my heart has taken a downturn and all cardiologist wants to do is up Beta Blocker and put me on Entresto which can lead to renal failure. I am saving my $ to go see Dr Joel Kahn in my own backyard. I’m sure you know who he is (Plant Based.) Your post here gave me a TON of hope!!! Thank you and I am praying for your dad to continue to be well ?

    • Anne on February 8, 2024 at 1:15 am

      Hi Carole, how have you been since then?

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