Woman who drank ‘toxic tea’ speaks about recovery

Posted at 2:32 PM, Aug 29, 2014

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS -- The woman who drank a sweet tea that had been laced with a cleaning chemical is speaking about her experience, thanking people from all over the nation who prayed for her recovery.

"I could not have made it without all the prayers of America," Jan Harding said Friday.

Harding was at a Dickey's Barbecue restaurant in South Jordan earlier this month, when she took a sip of sweet tea. She said she knew immediately that something was wrong.

"I filled it and took a sip and immediately my whole mouth was just on fire," she told reporters.

Authorities said they believe an employee had mixed the cleaning chemical sodium hydroxide into sugar, which found its way into the sweet tea.

"It was a fire beyond anything you can imagine, worse than drinking hot coffee or something with hot spices," Harding said. "It was a fire that was just it was just all consuming in my mouth, everywhere in my mouth, my tongue, the roof of my mouth, the insides of my cheeks, everywhere."

Harding's family rushed her to a Riverton hospital, where doctors inserted a breathing tube in her throat. She said that was the last thing she remembered for six days. For a time, Harding said she did not believe she was going to survive.

"I asked God if I wasn't going to make it through this, if He would send an angel to help me with the journey because it was so hard," she told FOX 13. "I never saw an angel, I never saw a bright light. I knew, I knew I would be OK."

Harding was released from the hospital on her 46th wedding anniversary. She said she celebrated with her husband, Jim, by eating some "bland food" and dancing in her living room.

After being released from the hospital last Saturday, Harding said she still has medical care. Doctors will scope her throat next week to see how she is recovering. The perforations in her throat have healed, but she may still have scarring.

"I don't feel quite myself yet," she said. "My head has been kind of fuzzy, but I'm feeling better every day."

If the toxic tea had hit her stomach, she said doctors told her she would have likely died.

"I'm in very good care with some very good doctors," she said.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told FOX 13 on Friday he met with South Jordan police to screen the case for possible criminal charges, but he wanted more follow-up. A final decision could come next week.

The Salt Lake County Health Department said it initially responded after South Jordan police were called, but did not close the restaurant because police had seized the cleaning chemical and there was no longer an "imminent threat."

Harding's lawyer told FOX 13 that no lawsuit had been filed yet because he was going to see if they could reach a resolution short of litigation.

Harding said she is not mad at anyone over what happened.

"It's not in my nature to be vengeful," she said.

However, she did want to see steps taken to ensure it would not happen to anyone else, ever again.

"We're hoping that the restaurant industry will make changes in how they train their employees, how they store their chemicals, where they store them, how they label them," Harding said. "Put some dye or coloring in things that are not to be ingested. We're hoping in the days ahead, we'll see them become proactive because of this."

Related stories:

Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants issues statement after tainted tea injures woman

Family of woman critically injured after drinking tainted tea speaks
Woman who drank toxic tea has burns worse than expected, remains in critical condition

Family’s attorney speaks as woman who drank tainted tea remains in critical condition

Experts discuss dangers of chemical that left woman in critical condition