My husband was specifically promised good health for obeying the Word of Wisdom. So why did he have a stroke at 37?

Racing into the ER I was terrified. Earlier my husband called to tell me he was on his way to the hospital because something was terribly wrong, and he was having double vision. Not knowing what to expect, I opened the door to the ER and scanned the room to find my 37-year-old husband in a wheelchair, slumped over, one eye drooping unnaturally. He looked like he had aged 50 years. I could tell immediately that he was having a stroke.

How was this happening? He was a busy young patent lawyer working in Washington, DC, while serving as a bishop in our ward. We had six young kids, including twin 8-month-old baby boys. And yet, here my husband was in a wheelchair struggling to look at me because the stroke was affecting his vision. 

I immediately knew our life would be different now, and my mind flooded with questions: Would my husband have double vision forever? How drastically was this going to affect our normal day-to-day lives? I also couldn’t help but have flashbacks to when my dad had a heart attack at the age of 55 and died before I had a chance to say goodbye. 

In the coming days, while doctors ran multiple tests to understand why my young, seemingly healthy husband had suffered a stroke, I read my husband’s patriarchal blessing searching for answers. His blessing said that if he followed the Word of Wisdom he would be blessed with health. But that didn’t make sense; he has never touched alcohol, tobacco, drugs, coffee, or tea, yet he was having a stroke at just 37 years old. This apparent contradiction was the beginning of my discovery of how much more the Word of Wisdom has to offer us.

No Medical Answers

One question I had for the neurologist was if the stroke was caused by stress—as a father to six kids, a bishop, and a busy lawyer, my husband had a lot to be stressed about. But the neurologist said his stroke was not caused by stress and that he believed there was something more serious going on. The doctor ordered multiple tests, but everything came back negative: there was no hole in his heart, no genetic predisposition, no heart arrhythmia, or anything else. They also didn’t have any answers for when or if his vision would return to normal. 

The only direction we were given was a piece of paper that said from now on my husband should follow a heart-healthy diet by avoiding trans fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol and by increasing his intake of fiber. At the time, I had no idea how to avoid trans fat or saturated fat. And the first thing that popped into my mind to add more fiber to our diet was Fiber One bars. The whole experience was confusing and overwhelming, but I could feel the Spirit nudging me to seek clarity in the Word of Wisdom. 

A Search for the Do’s

When my dad died, we didn’t get a warning. It was his one and only heart attack. After he passed, I remember wishing so badly that he would have been given a warning heart attack and a chance to make changes. Like many of us, my dad was really good at following the don’ts of the Word of Wisdom but paid less heed to do’s, like eating plants and whole grains. I think of my dad every day and I still miss him very much.

In my research after my husband’s stroke, I learned that seven of the ten leading causes of death are linked to diet, with the number one killer being heart disease.

But I also learned that doesn't have to be the case.1 

After coming home from the hospital, my husband and I sought guidance from above. I didn’t want my spouse to be another statistic. We went to the temple, fasted, and prayed. Our ward members were also fasting for my husband’s vision to return to normal. I was willing to make any dietary change necessary to avoid more strokes in the future and to help my husband’s vision.

I analyzed every part of the Word of Wisdom. We were already following the don’ts, so I spent most of my time on the do’s. This included eating meat sparingly and eating more plants and whole grains. I learned how incredible the fiber found in whole foods is for our bodies. And I learned that just as the Lord has blessed the world with knowledge about the benefits of following the don’ts of the Word of Wisdom, He has blessed the world with knowledge about the value of the do’s

There is so much nutritional confusion in the world today, but God has blessed us with guidance on how to see past dietary trends. More and more research is proving the truth that we have known for hundreds of years.2 The do’s and the don’ts of the Word of Wisdom work together as one to help “in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days.”3   

After diving deep into the research on diets and longevity and seeing past the current health trends and fads, I have learned that eating meat sparingly and eating more whole foods and plants is the best thing you can do to prevent chronic disease.4 Unlike medications, there isn’t one kind of diet for optimal liver function and a different diet to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A heart-healthy diet is also a brain-healthy diet and a lung-healthy diet.5  The Word of Wisdom is the same diet that helps prevent cancer and may also help prevent type 2 diabetes and most causes of death on the top ten list.6   

A Fulfilled Promise

Our family has stopped eating meat and animal products as often as we used to. By doing so, we avoid trans fat, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and have significantly increased our fiber intake just like the doctors recommended. We now base our meals on vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and we add wholesome herbs for flavor. I have seen so many good things come to us from this change. My husband's important health numbers—cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, etc.—have gone down. We have used the Word of Wisdom as our guide and truly have found “great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.”7

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After five months of eating this way, my husband’s vision cleared up—which we both consider a miracle. With all the blessings that we have experienced by trying to more fully live the Word of Wisdom, I have wondered why, when we had the choice to eat this way all along, my family overlooked these important parts of the Word of Wisdom for so long. Perhaps if our family had done a better job at following this guidance, my dad would not have died at just 55 years old, and my husband may not have had a stroke at age 37. It took these life-altering events for us to look deeper and to uncover “hidden treasures” into the amazing guidance of health that our Heavenly Father has given us. 

The scriptures have many layers, and if we focus too much on the don’ts and not enough on the do’s, we miss a powerful layer.  Similar to keeping the Sabbath day holy, when we emphasize the don’ts and not the do’s we can miss the greater picture. It’s the do’s that make all the difference in our Sabbath day worship, and it is the do’s that make all the difference in the Word of Wisdom. 


Notes

1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23803880/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23253183/ , and  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2803089/
3. See Doctrine and Covenants 89:2
4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26633317/ , https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24667136/ , https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21930800/ 
5.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29039970/, https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-diet-might-cut-the-risk-of-developing-alzheimers-1429569168, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24176995/
6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24606898/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6235058/pdf/bmjdrc-2018-000534.pdf, https://nutritionfacts.org/video/food-as-medicine/
7. See Doctrine and Covenants 89:19
Photos courtesy of Alisia Essig
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