From hospice to healthy: Meet 89-year-old Millie Donahue, the inspiration behind MamaSezz

++ Get out (but, like, not too far). We all love and appreciate the positive effects of the Maine outdoors. Hopefully we’ll be back to all kinds of adventuring soon. But for now, press pause. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great advice: stay close to home, steer clear of busy locations, keep your distance (and stick to walking/hiking with folks from your household). ++

From hospice to healthy: Meet 89-year-old Millie Donahue, the inspiration behind MamaSezz

March 16, 2020Mama Sezz648Views

Millie Donahue has a big heart.

You can feel it in the warmth she exudes as she proudly talks about her four grown daughters and lovingly brags on her 8-year-old granddaughter, Annie. “She’s so beautiful and bright,” says Millie. You hear it in her voice, in the gratitude she expresses so freely for her friends, a spirited game of cards, and a life she’s excited to wake up to. “I am so in love with how I feel,” she says.

Then she tells you she’s turning 90 in October and you’re like WHAT?! She says she’s got more energy and vigor than she did when she was 70, and I believe her.

Left: The vivacious and extroverted Millie Donahue, second from right, on the tennis court. Right: Millie with husband Patrick Donahue. Photos courtesy Millie Donahue

Millie grew up in Maine – swimming and canoeing and playing outdoors. She married her high school sweetheart, raised five kids, and embraced a life full of activity and family – and lots of books.

“I had a group of good friends and my children,” Millie says. “I enjoyed the ocean. I played tennis and pickleball and golf.” Always eager to learn new things, she loved taking classes at the Lifelong Learning Institute.

But in 2011, when Millie was 80 years old, that warm heart of hers wasn’t doing so well.

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Her usual energy had drained rapidly in previous months. Her typically vibrant and sociable personality had dimmed. Millie, it turned out, had congestive heart failure. For months she was in and out of the hospital and intensive care; her heart was functioning at 10 percent and her kidneys were failing. She was in rough shape, no doubt about it. But she didn’t have the energy to fight it.

“Increasingly I wasn’t feeling well,” she says. “And I didn’t care. I was getting thinner. I was very low energy. I was not into reading, which I love. My life was just…existing.”

Millie wasn’t the only one in her family whose health was hurting. Her daughter Meg, then 48 and living in Vermont, was 25 weeks pregnant and ended in the hospital herself with acute preeclampsia. Recognizing the severity of their situations – and the terrifyingly real possibility that one of them could die, Millie insisted on coming to Vermont. Meg’s doctors were not allowing her visitors, but that didn’t stop Millie. Despite barely being able to walk, she made the drive with family members and arrived at Meg’s hospital bedside

Family matters: Millie, in pink, enjoying time with family. Photo courtesy Meg Donahue

Within hours, Meg would be rushed into an emergency cesarean and give birth to a perfect, tiny, one-pound, 10-ounce baby girl named Annie. And Millie – still at the hospital and no doubt relieved that her daughter and granddaughter were both alive – collapsed.

Three generations of this family on three different floors of the hospital. Baby Annie in the NICU, Meg recovering from complications, and Millie in and out of cardiac ICU with a worsening heart condition.

“We were all a mess,” Meg says.

Eventually Meg and Millie were released, and they lived out of a hotel near the hospital so they’d be close to Annie. And finally, the baby was strong enough to come home. Millie, on the other hand, was not well.

Increasingly I wasn’t feeling well. My life was just…existing.”

“I felt so weak, so incredibly tired and exhausted,” Millie says. “I just wanted to sleep and rest. I was a Zombie.”

Too weak for surgeries, doctors said there was nothing more they could do to help her. Meg knew that sending her mom back to Maine was out of the question. “She was in and out of the hospital for three months,” says Meg. “How does someone who is so gravely ill care for themselves?”

Friends helped Meg quickly renovate a garage apartment for Millie at her home in Vermont, so Meg could take care of her mom in what they expected to be the last months of her life. Millie moved in and could do little more than sleep.

“I barely had the effort to get up and go to the bathroom five feet away,” she says. “Even that was such a strain.”

Meg Donahue, Millie’s daughter and co-founder of MamaSezz, with her daughter Annie. Photo courtesy Meg Donahue

But Meg wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her mother. She didn’t want to throw her hands up in what felt like a forfeit. So she got online and started researching. And her research kept leading back to the same thing: Plant-based eating. Put simply, a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

An active and lively woman herself, Meg thought she and her mom had been healthy eaters. But she was desperate and game to try anything, so she jumped full-on into plant-based – and she brought the whole family with her.

“She started me with juice drinks,” says Millie, who was so exhausted at the time that she wasn’t eating much of anything. The processes was incremental at first. Small sips, tiny bites.

Over time, Millie started to regain her appetite, and Meg fed her more, experimenting with recipes and new ingredients.

Pretty AND delicious: MamaSezz’s Quinoa Stack. Photo courtesy MamaSezz

“Meg came up with new ideas for me,” Millie says. “She made it very tasteful. She knew enough to start me off at small doses. If I wanted more, I could have it.”

Weeks and months passed, and slowly, Millie’s energy returned.

“I started to feel stronger,” she says. “I wanted to get up and do things.”

Daughter Meg was fairly astonished herself. “At 80, you don’t usually have the trajectory of your health shift for the better,” she says.

Peas in a pod: Millie and granddaughter Annie having tea, riding bikes, and playing together. Photos courtesy Meg Donahue

These days, with her 90th birthday on the horizon, Millie is a force of nature. She’s fueled by nature, too, and couldn’t be happier about it.

“My diet changed my life completely,” she says. “I made new friends. I started going swimming and doing things I never thought I would do.”

Her daughter Meg’s life changed, too. Out of this experience – which was first terrifying and then felt dang near magical – Meg started a small business: MamaSezz.

MamaSezz prepares healthy vegan meals that are delivered right to your door. The goal: Help other people experience what Millie, Meg, and Annie (now 8 and healthy as all get out) experienced. Not just for the sake of eating well – but to fuel our bodies so we can live, play, and do all the things we want to do.

“I am so in love with how I feel.”

Millie is certainly a plant-based advocate, but like Meg, she’s not here to push it on any one else. But if you ask? Oh, she’s happy to tell you all about it.

“I tell them: It’s my diet. It’s the FOOD,” she says. “It changes you. It makes you want to live instead of just existing. I look forward to each day. And I look forward to each meal.”

Her MamaSezz favorites: Millie’s Chili (no surprise there), high-protein brownies, and the beet smoothie.

A warm bowl of Millie’s Chili – a comfort food filled with goodness. Photo courtesy MamaSezz

“You want everyone to feel as good as you feel,” Millie says. “Because being tired is not a good thing. Now I’m dying to make my plans to go and do things.”

These days you’re likely to find Millie exercising at the pool or playing cards with friends or catching up on her reading. And goofing off with her granddaughter.

“Today I love my life and am very blessed,” says Millie. “I am looking forward to the long ride ahead of me. ”

Meet MamaSezz

MamaSezz believes in eating well so we’re ready to go play, and they making it easy for the rest of us with healthy meals that are delivered fresh and ready to eat, right to our doors. You can shop bundles or buy a la carte. Meals are oil-free, gluten-free, wheat free, meat-free, egg-free, non-dairy, peanut-free, sesame-free, and contain no refined sugar or preservatives. Amazing.

We’re talking hearty good stuff, from Millie’s Chili and lasagna to mac and cheese, veggie burgers, soups, and stews, plus granola, breakfast scrambles, and smoothies. Not to mention salad dressings, ketchup, and Awesome Sauce.

If you’re new to plant-based eating and don’t know where to start, check out the Get Me Started bundle.

And for you athletes, there’s the Peak Performance Bundle. All the plant-based power you could ask for.

Excellent food without leaving the house. While we’re all being mindful of staying healthy and staying home, MamaSezz is the perfect way to skip the grocery store and still stock up on healthy whole foods. Check out the Be Prepared Bundle and have health food ready and available.

This Sponsored Post is a collaboration between MamaSezz and Fit Maine and includes affiliate links. I met Meg a few years back and was immediately smitten by her incredible energy and good humor. I also love this business she’s created, with a sole purpose of helping us eat well so we feel awesome and ready to tackle the world. “Eat well, go play,” Meg says. And I’m on board with that 100%.

Shannon Bryan

Shannon Bryan

I don't like "exercise" any more than you do. But you know what I do like? Paddleboarding with a friend all afternoon (and then sitting in the grass to drink chardonnay). Bike rides and nachos, hikes, yoga classes held in breweries, group paddles to Fort Gorges, you get the idea. Because Maine is my gym.