The Scottish Mail on Sunday
The diet that has saved my life
After surviving FIVE heart attacks, The Mail on Sunday’s good food guru shares...
SOME would say I’m an unlucky person. At 48, and despite having always taken care of my health, I’ve had five heart attacks and counting. The first three, which occurred within one week when I was just 36, were so huge that at one point my sobbing husband was ushered into the operating theatre to say goodbye.
But I didn’t die. In fact, I pulled through. Then having been well for more than a decade, disaster struck last year and I suffered a further two heart attacks – which is why viewers of ITV’s Lorraine show, where I’m resident chef, will have seen a bit less of me recently.
So, yes, this could be seen as very bad luck. But do I think I’m unlucky? No. In fact, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people alive.
I’m on the mend again and determined to feel better than ever. I believe that when it comes to our health, we can make our own luck.
After those first attacks, I devoted my life to spreading the word about the thing I believe saved me: a balanced diet and healthy approach to life. I’d always eaten well, but during my recovery I realised that when I ate nutritionally packed food, my body reacted in positive ways. If I didn’t, I began to feel poorly again.
With this in mind, I began to write my own recipes. And my doctors, stunned by my recovery, agreed that my approach to healthy living was the reason I beat the odds.
Michelle Obama, a great advocate of good nutrition, famously bought 12 copies of my first recipe collection after a trip to the UK. Now, alongside appearing on Lorraine, I am an ambassador for Heart Research UK and also write my Real Superfoods column for The Mail on Sunday, sharing my conviction that good nutrition doesn’t mean buying expensive foods or hard-to-find exotic ingredients. I’m a busy mother-of-three – Tarik, 18, Kazim, 15, and Lela, 13 – so I don’t have time to scour healthfood shops for the latest wonderberry or rare grain.
My sixth recipe book, Beelicious, will be published this month and is a culmination of everything I have learned in a collection of recipes, some of which are featured on these pages.
But it’s also a journal in which readers can record their thoughts and feelings – and more practical things such as whether they’ve had enough water that day. My hope is that the book will be your chef and life coach rolled into one.
Of course, I can’t deny the magnificent medical care I have received over the years. But by eating well, you can support your body and help it to function better for longer. And if and when disaster strikes, you will be better placed to survive and recover. I truly believe I am a living example of that.
My rare conditions
MY INITIAL heart attacks were a rare type, due to something known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), in which the arteries around the heart tear.
There is no specific treatment for it but I am on a high dose of betablockers, which keep my heart relaxed. And I take statins, known to lower cholesterol and for their anti-inflammatory effects. But I know the reality is that I could have another attack at any time.
Two years ago, I had some tough news when it was discovered that I suffer from fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD), a rare condition that causes the blood vessels to grow in abnormal ways, narrowing in some places and bulging in others.
The arteries in my brain, neck, heart, kidneys and legs are affected, meaning I’m prone to heart attacks and strokes.
Suspecting the two problems might be linked, doctors started testing patients who had suffered a SCAD heart attack for FMD, which is how I came to be diagnosed.
And then it happened. On November 12 last year, I was walking along with Bob, my border terrier, and Dogan, my husband, when I fell over, face-first into the pavement. Dogan tried to get me up, but I couldn’t move. The wind had been blown out of me. I was aware that I was counting my teeth with my tongue, hoping they were all there. Eventually, Dogan got me home.
Six days later, feeling fragile, I sat up in bed and felt an unmistakable sweep of ‘impending doom’ wash over. I’d felt it before my first heart attack, and I knew what was coming. The pain in my chest arrived. I stumbled downstairs and Dogan called the ambulance.
I survive the unsurvivable
AT HOSPITAL, blood tests showed I had suffered a fourth heart attack. I believe that the shock of being told this triggered a fifth right there in hospital.
The artery that goes around the back of the heart had ruptured. There was nothing they could do to help me. It was simply a case of wait and see and hope and pray. I was devastated. I’d worked so hard to build up my strength both physically and emotionally. I was back at square one. Worse, in fact, because this was another round of damage my heart had sustained. I knew that many people in my situation would need a heart transplant to survive.
For the next few days, I cried in my bed. I hated the world for doing this to me. I slept. Then it dawned on me. I was still alive and had wonderful people taking care of me. My family needed me, my friends
needed me. All my hard work over the past 12 years to stay fit and well was not wasted, it had worked. I had again, survived the unsurvivable.
And then, some amazing news: despite the massive attacks, the new damage was minimal. I gave a quiet little cheer. A few weeks ago, further tests showed the power output of my heart is normal. My approach has saved me again.
The next year is going to be challenging for me but I’m determined not to miss a thing. My mantra is simple: every day, make sure you are the best you can be.
Order your copy of Beelicious, by Sally Bee, before June 25 for the special price of £17 (RRP £20), at sally-bee.com.