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Victor teacher's post-heart attack transformation inspires hundreds to try plant-based diet

Doug Schmidt in 2016 (left), and (right) before his 2008 heart attack.
Doug Schmidt in 2016 (left), and (right) before his 2008 heart attack.

A new year is a popular time for people to start new diets.

1,300 school district employees in the Finger Lakes region are taking a very specific, challenge starting today.  For the next ten days, they will eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.

The effort was spearheaded by Doug Schmidt, a Victor school teacher who had a heart attack when he was 49.  Nine-and-a-half years later, he's about 60 pounds leaner and has gone off all medication.  Schmidt credits a diet that not only eliminates all animal products, but also includes no oils, dairy or added sugar. It’s based on the book, "Engine 2 Seven Day Rescue Diet" by Rip Esselstyn.

"It took me eight years to get where I am right now,” said Schmidt. “It doesn't need to take that long; it can be a lot shorter. That's what I'm hoping to give these people, to give them a window of what's possible, and then they can make their own journey to where they want to go with this."

A select group of those taking part in the challenge will get before and after blood tests to see how much their health can improve in just 10 days. 

Schmidt, who has led other groups in the challenge in the past two years, says some medical professionals told him that wasn’t enough time to make a difference, but he says the results speak for themselves.

"We've had people drop their total cholesterol by 25 points; we've had people go from the danger zone in their blood sugar levels down to into the normal range in ten days. We've seen people lose a pound a day on this for a total loss of ten pounds in ten days."

The challenge group includes employees of 36 different school districts and Finger Lakes Community College.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.