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Cleveland Surgeon Wins Benjamin Spock Award for Compassion in Medicine

Benjamin Spock, M.D.

Benjamin Spock, M.D.

This April, PCRM established the Benjamin Spock Award for Compassion in Medicine. Its first recipient is Cleveland surgeon Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr.

Benjamin Spock, M.D., the most trusted pediatrician of all time, was a tireless and courageous advocate for children and families throughout his long career. At a time when most parents were in awe of doctors, Spock and his best-selling Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care assured them that they—the parents—were the true experts on their own children. The prevailing wisdom of the day, for example, warned parents not to console crying children; Spock countered that affection would only make children happier and more secure. His guidance was delivered in a friendly, reassuring, and down-to-earth manner completely at odds with the cold authoritarianism of the time.

Later in his life, Spock became a vocal political activist and a vigorous advocate for a healthy diet. As a member of PCRM’s advisory board, he called for sweeping reforms of federal food policy and helped publicize the links between cow’s milk and type 1 diabetes. He will remain a source of inspiration for generations to come.

Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.
Benjamin Spock Award Recipient

Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.

Dr. Esselstyn was a tremendously successful surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the top-ranked medical centers in the world, when he first began questioning the traditional approach to disease. During his chairmanship of a breast cancer task force, he began thinking about Western medicine?fs focus on diagnosis and treatment rather than prevention. It became clear to him that the American diet was largely responsible for heart disease and many cancers that are common in North America but infrequent in other parts of the world.

Since then, Dr. Esselstyn has worked long and hard to promote prevention and keep his patients out of the operating room. He began a groundbreaking research study in which he helped heart patients adopt a low-fat, plant-based diet over a 12-year period. He and his wife adopted the diet themselves, often inviting patients to their home for picnics of healthful foods. “It means a lot to patients to know their doctor is making the same changes they are,” he says. And he found ways to make the diet easy for his patients. “If I take away something delicious, I replace it with something delicious. I may, for example, take away a hot fudge sundae, but in its place, I’ll tell you how to make a mean banana mango sorbet.”

Publishing the results of his study in the American Journal of Cardiology in 1999, Dr. Esselstyn proved that heart disease could be completely reversed with a vegan diet. Not one of the patients who followed his diet ever had another episode of heart disease. He called it becoming “heart-attack-proof.”

Born in New York City and raised on a cattle farm in upstate New York, Dr. Esselstyn attended Yale University where he won a gold medal for rowing in the 1956 Olympics. He later received his M.D. from Western Reserve University. While at the Cleveland Clinic, he served as head of the thyroid and parathyroid surgery section, staff president, and a member of the Board of Governors.

Dr. Esselstyn has worked closely with PCRM over the years, speaking out about the problems of low-carbohydrate diets and the health benefits of a low-fat vegetarian diet. He combines medical rigor with boundless compassion for his patients and for the public.

To read more about Dr. Esselstyn’s work, please visit his Web site at


Good Medicine Cover

Summer 2005
Volume XIV
Number 3

Good Medicine

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