Meet Saray Stancic, MD, and you’ll just want to hang on her every word. She is smart, caring, insightful, and plant-based. A graduate of the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School and aboard certified infectious disease specialist, she is also the founder of the Stancic Health and Wellness in Ramsey, NJ. And she is all heart.
Twenty-five years ago as a medical resident, she was stricken with debilitating multiple sclerosis that she lived with for eight years. She learned about the whispers of the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet, and was able to fully reverse all symptoms. Nearly a quarter of a century later, she lives a powerful plant-based life and is totally disease-free. Part of her current mission is to impart her knowledge and personal experiences to her patients, so they, too, can live productive and meaningful lives.
But wait, aside from being a busy practicing physician, wife and mother of two teens, Stancic has added film producer to her roster of accomplishments. In the making for two years, the health documentary, Code Blue, actually began in the hallway of her daughter’s school. Saray’s daughter wrote an essay about her favorite person, and a fellow parent caught glimpse of the heartwarming story.
But, it wasn’t just any parent; it happened to be Marcia Machado, an acclaimed documentarian and TV producer. They put their heads together, started a Kickstarter campaign, created a storyboard, and off they went to develop and film a hardhitting movie which Stancic hopes will redefine medicine and medical education.
I sat down with Saray Stancic to learn more about the film, her goals, and how she sees the future of medicine.
Q. What was your "ah-ha" moment in deciding to make this documentary with Maria Machado?
Dr. Stancic: In early 2015, Marcia, by chance, had read my daughter’s essay, entitled “My Hero,” displayed in the classroom. My daughter relayed my story to her classmates. Marcia came to visit me and wanted to learn more. She was also curious to learn more about my private, lifestyle medicine-clinical practice.
I explained that I was deeply committed to changing how we train physicians. At the time of my diagnosis with MS, my own doctors were incapable of offering me the most important therapy I needed; instead, they could only prescribe medicines with compromising side effects. I told Marcia I was trying to reach as many as I could to assure we do better in the future. It was then that she told me she was a filmmaker and thought my story and passion could be a film. After several weeks of meeting regularly for hours at a time, we felt committed to the project.
Q. How did you decide who your subjects would be in the film?
Dr. Stancic: There are essentially three groups of subjects in our film; what we call “the experts,” “the students” and “the patients.”
On the experts, we turned to those who have been leaders in the field of nutrition and lifestyle to speak to the evidence. We’ve interviewed Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., MD, Neal D. Barnard, MD, and many more of the pioneers in the plant-based movement.
The students represent the future, or flowering movement which will redefine how we practice medicine. They are medical students, and they are fired up to change things!
The patients are primarily my own who have their compelling stories to tell.
Intertwined amongst these subjects is my own story line and how I connect to all of them.
Q. What has been the biggest challenge in producing Code Blue?
Dr. Stancic: I don’t know that I’ve ever felt challenged; its been a labor of love, definitely an uphill climb. We have given so much of ourselves in the making of Code Blue over the past three years. I am grateful to my remarkable partner, Marcia, who understands the truth I want to tell.
I joke with her that she should receive an honorary medical degree when this is all done. She has learned so much about the science of health, and I, in turn, have learned so much from her about the process of filmmaking and storytelling.
I suppose raising funds to make the film may have been our biggest challenge, but we have been so blessed by overwhelming support from family, friends and the public who believe in the importance of the message.
Q. If you were to write a review of the film, what would you like to see in print?
Dr. Stancic: Physician Saray Stancic’s new documentary will have you thinking about the power of prevention, the importance of your choices and how they in large part pave the course of your health outcomes. Her greatest hope is that we all age gracefully in the absence of pain, suffering and disability.
Q. Can you list three take-aways you hope people will get from the film?
- Our fate is not necessarily defined by our genes; our choices matter most.
- Globally, our diets must evolve from one which is primarily animal based to one which is primarily plant based.
- Medical students and physicians must come to understand the importance of lifestyle and a whole foods, plant-based diet in maintaining optimal health.
Q. From the time you began a plant-based diet, how soon after did you notice your MS symptoms lessen?
Dr. Stancic: Hard question to answer, I began to see small things early on, like my crippling fatigue began to lift after a few months. The intensity of the pain I experienced began to lessen in the first year. I did have a setback in 2004 with an exacerbation which scared me and led me to begin to question my decision.
In fact, when I look back to when my daughter turned one year, I see in the photos an IV in my hand because I was receiving daily IV steroids. I think this was a huge turning point for me; I pushed through despite it. I’m grateful to my loving husband who offered me the courage I needed when I began to doubt my decision.
Q. Tell us three things about your private practics: where it is located, the type of patient you see, the best disease reversal story.
Dr. Stancic: My Lifestyle Medicine practice is in Ramsey, NJ, about 30 miles outside Manhattan.
I am an internist, so I treat anyone age 18 or older.
I see a wide range of patients, some seeking weight loss, others wanting to improve or reverse a debilitating chronic disease, many patients with autoimmune disease- largely MS.
The most common reversal story is diabetes. I see cases weekly - it is so rewarding and truly attainable in a relatively short period of time. I love showing patients their HbA1c drop dramatically within 3 months of a plant-based diet.
No medicine can do this!
Q. What’s the last book you read, nonmedically related?
Dr. Stancic: La Vida Publica y Secreta de Encarnacion de Varona, the biography of my great-grandmother who was a poet. She embodied pure courage, and was an extraordinary woman.
Q. What’s your favorite food to cook?
Dr. Stancic: Undoubtedly, Cuban black beans.
Q. You're planning a super delicious, plant-based dinner. Who are your guests?
Dr. Stancic: Clara Barton, nursing pioneer; Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady; Encarnacion de Varona, my great-grandmother; and Gandhi, peace activist.
Quite easy to see that part of who Saray Stancic is a direct reflection of her great-grandmother, Encarnacion de Varona.
Her documentary, Code Blue is a total vista of her passion to teach the benefits of a plant-based diet, one healthy bite at a time, and to act as a catalyst to the way medical students are taught.
For More Information about Dr. Stancic’s Practice:
300 B Lake Street, Suite 6 | Ramsey, NJ | (201) 615-6030
About the Author
Char Nolan graduated from Temple University with a degree in public health. She is a certified plant-based chef (Rouxbe trained) and a certified food literacy coach (The Cookbook Project). She has also earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell’s T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.