Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Dr. Neal Pinckney of the Healing Heart Foundation for his work in educating the public on how to reverse heart disease through lifestyle changes.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by Neal Pinckney (NP).
VIP: We understand you have a unique story about how you became a vegetarian. Would you share the highlights of that occasion?
NP: A little over ten years ago I experienced a crushing pain in my chest and immediately went into a denial mode, telling myself that I had pulled a muscle. When the pain recurred, I saw my physician and was sent for a number of diagnostic tests that led to an angiogram. Later, four cardiologists came to report the results with a 'good news, bad news' presentation. I asked for the bad first and was told that I had critical coronary artery disease, with the right main 100% blocked and the two main left arteries 90% and 85% blocked. The 'good news' was that I wouldn't have to leave the hospital, they would put me ahead of all scheduled surgery and I could have a bypass the next morning.
I told them I couldn't have the operation the next day, because I was a devout Coward. They told me I wouldn't be alive very long if I didn't have the surgery immediately.
I went home against their advice, searched the web for information, and learned of the work of Dr. Dean Ornish. After reading his research and his best-selling book, I decided I would change my lifestyle to a very low fat vegetarian diet with regular aerobic exercise and stress management. A few days later I read Dr. John McDougall's books and accepted the even greater benefits of a vegan diet and I've never looked back since.
VIP: You have had opportunities to share information on vegetarianism and health in workshops and in your writing. Would you tell us about those?
NP: Dr. Ornish's research showed that those who also became part of a support group had even more positive results, so I tried to find one to join, but there were none in Hawaii. When I called hospitals and HMOs to see if they would start one, they learned of my private practice in psychotherapy and asked me to start one. Bureacratic hurdles were discouraging, but nearly six months later, a medical center and an HMO both asked me to start one. I've since led over 750 participants through ten week support groups and held 'alumni' meetings for many of those who completed the groups.
In the early groups, I duplicated huge amounts of materials for the participants to read, and that led to requests to put them all together to give to others. That led to the book, the Healthy Heart Handbook. Initially published in Hawaii, it was later released internationally by the publishers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
I continue to give talks around the world, encouraging people to change their lifestyle to prevent and reverse coronary artery disease.
VIP: Our readers might be interested in knowing more about the Healing Heart Foundation What are its principal goals, functions, and accomplishments?
NP: The Foundation was established in 1993 with the initial goal of educating physicians to the the lifestyle alternative to surgery or medication for coronary artery disease. The royalties from the book were turned over to the Foundation, allowing it to broaden the target audience to include everyone. The book was sent free to all libraries requesting it and a quarterly newsletter was published and sent to all Hawaii physicians, former support group participants, libraries and medical centers. Other than supporting the website the Foundation's activities are now limited by restricted resources..
VIP: How is the foundation funded and how many staff members are involved?
NP: I am the sole source of funding. The foundation has never solicited or accepted funding from any other source.
VIP: What other organizations have worked in conjunction with the Healing Heart Foundation?
NP: I've worked with the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii as a former director, the Toronto Vegetarian Association as a speaker and cooking demonstrator for two years at their Food Fair, The Vegan Society of England, and the London Vegetarians.
VIP: You created a website at http://www.kumu.org. Our readers might be |curious about the meaning of kumu and what a visitor expects to find at the site?
NP: http://www.kumu.org is a portal that includes the Healing Heart Foundation website, which is updated many times a month, offering summaries of the latest research on heart disease and risk factors, information on how to reverse and prevent heart disease through lifestyle, and the entire text of the Healthy Heart Handbook. It also has over 250 low-fat vegan recipes, most quick and easy. There are resource links and other features of interest. The direct URL to this site is http://heart.kumu.org
In addition, there is a discussion group to support the recommended lifestyle changes and provide information, motivation and support.
The portal also leads to the Makaha Chartres Labyrinth website, a tool to help in stress management, relaxation and inner peace.
VIP: You are featured on the VegSource web site with a heart problems discussion board. How much of your time do you devote to this project? What are the principal accomplishments of the board?
NP: The discussion group takes as much as three hours a day, depending on the amount of traffic. Although it's impossible to know how it has helped others, I receive many messages of thanks often saying that the information on the discussion group and the website has saved their life or the life of someone close to them.
VIP: How do your friends, relatives, and associates react to your vegetarianism?
NP: Over the years, many of my friends have adopted the same lifestyle, so there's no negative reaction. Those who haven't think I'm just as crazy as I always was. When I'm invited to a party with a potluck meal, very common in Hawaii, I eat a complete meal before I go, then put some salad and rice on my plate to not be noticed by anyone. I don't comment on what foods I choose not to eat or why, unless I'm asked.
VIP: Could you give us some of the highlights of your education and career?
NP: In my junior year at the University of Southern California I was named a Queen's Scholar to attend a university in England as a guest of Queen Elizabeth. I returned to graduate from USC and for the next two years worked for the County of LA. Then, on a Ford Foundation fellowship, I became part of a group to revamp the teacher training curriculum. We went through the traditional courses to receive a credential, taught for a year and then returned to design a program that was more relevant to current demands and conditions. Later I taught in Watts while pursuing graduate work in psychology. After that I was a psychologist at a private academy in Las Vegas, and later became the administrator of a psychiatric clinic there.
I returned to England to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. I worked as a teacher, counselor and psychologist for the U.S. dependent schools in England and Japan, and after four years, joined the faculty of the California State University, where I eventually retired as emeritus professor and chairperson of Behavioral Sciences at the Sacramento campus.
I also taught at U. C. Davis and the Medical School. For 13 years, I was an in-service training consultant and psychologist to the California Highway patrol. In addition to a small private practice, I consulted with many law enforcement agencies in the U. S. I retired in 1987 and have lived in Hawaii since.
VIP: Of all of your personal accomplishments, which ones give you the most pride and satisfaction?
NP: After a career of teaching and psychotherapy for over 30 years, I hope I've helped some people improve their lives, but it's even more satisfying to be told by people that what I've written or my advice has saved their life or the life of a loved one.
VIP: Over the years you have been involved in the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii. What roles have you played in the organization?
NP: I joined in 1993, served as a volunteer, then as a director. I now serve as the "owner" of the VegHawaii email list.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself in the coming years?
NP: To keep as healthy, active and committed as I have been in the past ten years. That's all. And never lose my sense of humor.
VIP: What organizations do you belong to and support?
NP: So many that it would take too long to name them all.
VIP: What leisure activities and hobbies do you enjoy?
NP: I've been involved in amateur radio since I was 14. As a 'ham' radio operator, I've been involved in lifesaving missions, expeditions, visits to foreign hams (from the late King Hussein of Jordan, to Barry Goldwater in Washington, and to Tom Christian, the direct descendant of Fletcher Christian of the Mutiny on the Bounty in Pitcairn Island). I enjoy computer programming and computer graphics, and brush painting Chinese calligraphy.
VIP: We have seen photographs of a labyrinth in your backyard. Could you tell us about your interests in labyrinths?
NP: After working at a residential retreat with Dr. Dean Ornish, a friend told me about the labyrinths at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. A couple of visits there were so impressive that I decided to build one at my home at the edge of the ocean. The labyrinth is a walking meditation tool helpful in reducing stress. People seem to derive their own personal value from the labyrinth experience, but most are positively affected by it, some profoundly. Visitors from over 40 countries have walked the labyrinth, allowing me to meet a variety of very interesting people.
VIP: We hear that you are quite a cook? What turned you on to cooking? Could you share a favorite recipe with us?
NP: My mother and grandmother were exceptional cooks, and both allowed me to help in the kitchen. About 40 years ago, with three friends I opened an Asian restaurant near Los Angeles, an omnivore establishment that's still in business. Since college, I've always enjoyed cooking exotic dishes for friends.
When I became vegetarian, I learned an entire new aspect of cooking, with spices and textures far richer than I had previously known. In order to keep my diet less than 10% calories from fat, I learned to adapt many high fat and animal-based dishes to my new lifestyle. Sharing them brought repeated requests for the recipes, so I've included them and many new original ones in the website and book. Each month I post two new recipes in the "What's New" section of the website.
VIP: Part of your own secret for improved health involves diet and exercise. Can you give our readers the main features of your personal regimen?
NP: When I first changed my lifestyle, I could barely walk 50 feet without having to sit down to relieve the chest pain. But I kept walking, gradually increasing the distance and speed. In less than a month I could walk 2 miles. I've increased that to four miles every day before breakfast, half of it up a steep hill. I also work out on my abs and practice gentle yoga every day. Sometimes I also bicycle about 12 miles.
A also meditate for between 15 and 30 minutes every day. This keeps my stress level amazingly low and allows me to be far more patient and giving than I ever was before.
My diet is totally vegan, with no meal over 10% calories from fat. I've found ways to make that easy to do. For packaged foods, I just avoid anything with more than one gram of fat for each 100 calories.
VIP: You have lived in a number of places around the United States? What led you to settle in Hawaii?
NP: About 35 years ago I was on a committee to help set up a national professional convention in Hawaii. I found it to be an exceptionally comfortable and beautiful place with a climate I could enjoy all year round. I also liked the laid-back attitude. I came back almost every year and eventually bought a place to retire in.
VIP: What person or persons have had the most influence on your life?
NP: Many people have been influential, but the most important person was my father. In addition to being my best friend, he instilled a sense of honor and service that motivates me today. He died over 40 years ago, at 59, from heart disease, and I realize now that if he had access to the information we have today, he might be alive.
VIP: Have we overlooked anything that you would like to share with our readers?
NP: I think you have it all. Maybe you'd like my underwear size?
VIP: We may have omitted areas that are important to you. Please feel free to add anything you would like to share with our readers.
NP: I hear so many people tell me that they'd like to change their lifestyle, but they just can't do it. I believe they can, but they aren't motivated enough to make the change. I sometimes ask them, "What tastes better, steak or life?" Feeling good later in life, being able participate vigorously, and to experience all life has to offer is well worth passing up a few instant gratifications today.