In 1976, Stamatis Moraitis left Florida and returned to his boyhood home on the Greek Island of Ikaria to die.
He had been living in the United States since 1943. America had become his new home and he had lived the Amercian dream. He had found work, got married, bought a house, bought a car and raised a family.
Thirty-three years after arriving in America, Stamatis was diagnosed with lung cancer. He received three second opinions. All three doctors confirmed the diagnosis. Stamatis was in his early sixties at the time of the diagnosis and the doctors estimated he had between six and nine months left to live. Funeral expenses were cheaper on Ikaria so he figured he would die there and leave more money behind for his wife.
He and his wife traveled back to Ikaria and moved in with his elderly parents. He spent his days in bed resting while his wife and mother cared for him. After a few days, his childhood friends started visiting in the afternoon, staying for a couple of hours and a couple bottles of wine. On Sundays he would walk up the hill to church.
Weeks passed, then months, then years. He planted some vegetables.
He added a couple rooms to the house. He got the family vineyard running again. He started producing wine, slowly at first, eventually working up to 400 bottles a year. By the time he reached his seventies the cancer was gone.
Stamatis continued to work in the vineyard until he died in 2013 at the age of 98 (or 102 depending on who you asked). He never found out why the cancer disappeared.
The Mediterranean Diet
I learned about Stamatis from Dan Buettner’s article in the New York Times and his book The Blue Zones. Dan Buettner met Stamatis while he was working on a National Geographic project studying areas of the world with the highest concentrations of 100 year olds (which the researchers had labeled blue zones).
In his book, Dan describes the Ikarian diet as a typical Mediterranean diet, “breakfast of goat’s milk, condensed wine, sage tea or coffee, and honey and bread. Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion, or a spinach- like green called horta ), and whatever seasonal vegetable their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat’s milk…meat was reserved mostly for festivals or holidays…”
When Dan last talked to Stamatis in 2012, it had been 35 years since Stamatis had gone back to Greece to die. Dan asked Stamatis how he had recovered from cancer:
“It just went away,” he said. “I actually went back to America about ten years after moving here to see if the doctors could explain it to me.”
“What happened?” [Dan] asked.
“My doctors were all dead.”
Next week we’ll visit a village in Norway where there are no fresh vegetables for eight months of the year, meet a man who cut off nine toes with a pocket knife and examine three factors behind the confusion in dietary advice (then we can start building a plan from the foundation of these stories).
Here’s Dan’s article from the New York Times and a picture of Stamatis:
The Island Where People Forget To Die