The Pressure Cooker
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Work stress and a pandemic led chef Hans Peter Muller to overcome a major heart incident with a healthier lifestyle
This past year inspired its share of “worst year ever” memes, but 2020 did bring much grief, loss and pain. Most of us suffered in some way. We always try to offer stories of inspiration, but this January they seem especially needed. Meet two people who took on the challenge of bettering their lives and those of others.
As a small business owner and baker, Hans Peter Muller lives with stress on a daily basis. COVID-19 certainly didn’t help, as he had to temporarily close his popular Swiss Pastry Shop and lay off employees.
Muller inherited the Fort Worth bakery from his father, who died in 2013. “I weighed about 210 at the time, and I rode my bicycle a lot,” says Muller. “I gained 60 to 70 pounds over the years and probably have tried every diet that exists.”
This past spring, Muller had been more tired than usual. “I’d take two or three steps and feel exhausted. Picking up 50-pound sacks of flour was a challenge.” He even took to social media to ask others for advice on dealing with digestive and depression issues. On June 18, he was at work early in the morning when he knew something was wrong. Muller called his wife, Kristi, who rushed him to the hospital. “They admitted me right away; my EKG was normal but I was in heart failure and my blood pressure was very high.”
After two days of tests, Muller was released with five prescriptions and a special life vest — basically an external defibrillator — that he had to wear 24 hours a day. It’s designed to correct the heart’s rhythm immediately if it detects something abnormal.
“I thought my life had changed forever. The doctors told me there was a good chance I’d be able to get back to ‘normal’ but that I’d have to take it easy. I wanted to jump on my bike and get back to riding 100 miles a week.”
Muller’s new normal meant checking his blood pressure two to three times a day, wearing the life vest and radically changing his diet, including cutting out salt. “I lost 22 pounds of water weight during those few days in the hospital,” he says. Back at work shortly after getting out of the hospital, he started a three-month program to improve his health and avoid a pacemaker implant. His doctors suggested he take up walking; Muller wanted to get back on the bike.
“I eat fish and vegetables every day, and cut salt out of my diet, which you know is hard to do if you’ve ever checked the sodium levels on all the things you eat. I’m maniacal about reading those labels now. ”
Muller’s standbys are salmon, salt-free almond butter and Mrs. Dash seasoning. “It’s been a challenge; I’ve always loved going out and trying new foods. I miss cheeseburgers — I make my own now as a treat — Zoli’s pizza, Asian food and whiskey. Meal prep is key, too. “I make muesli for breakfast and prepack it in containers I take to work.”
Muller is careful about testing and eating new products at the bakery, although he admits that over the holidays, he gave in to having a rum ball or two on occasion.
He’s also back on his bike at least five days a week, logging 100 miles or more. He rides solo or with friends and bakery regulars Vicky and Peter Schoch, who have been two of Muller’s biggest supporters.
Muller’s checkups have been good, and in September, he was able to remove the life vest.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise. The pandemic has me working harder at the bakery, but I feel great and have received so much encouragement from friends and customers.”
Muller also bought a slant board to do situps at home. “Washboard abs also are a goal in 2021,” he says.