Ode to My Dad with Congestive Heart Failure and Recovering with a Plant Based Diet
By Molly Patrick
Oct 6, 2015,
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.