SALT LAKE CITY — Jan Harding says she doesn't hold a grudge against the restaurant that served her iced tea laced with a chemical that almost killed her.
And she credits God, her family and the prayers of people she never met with getting her through the most frightening ordeal of her life.
"It's not my nature to be mad at people. It's not my nature to be vengeful," the 67-year-old Sandy woman told reporters Friday in her first public comments since suffering severe burns to her mouth and throat three weeks ago.
Harding was eating with her family on Aug. 9 at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in South Jordan when she poured herself a glass of sweet tea from a drink dispenser. Investigators believe a sodium hydroxide-based cleaning chemical was mistaken for sugar and used in mixing the tea.
"I took a sip and immediately my whole mouth was just on fire. I started spitting and rinsing my mouth out," she said. "I told my husband, 'I think I drank acid.' It was a fire beyond anything you can imagine."
Harding suffered lesions about a third of the way down her esophagus, but there were no perforations, so she avoided major surgery. Little if any of the chemical reached her stomach, which she said doctors told her would have killed her.
Harding's husband, Jim, and her children rallied around her during the two weeks she spent in the University Hospital Burn Unit. They stayed with her day and night, and motivated her through painful physical therapy.
"I just could not have made it without my family," she said.
Harding said she recalled telling her family at one point that "I asked God if I wasn't going to make it through this, if he would he would send an angel to help me with the journey because it was so hard. I never saw an angel. I never saw a bright light. And I knew, I knew I would be OK."
Doctors released Harding from the hospital last Saturday, her 46th wedding anniversary. She returned home to find that Jim Harding had decorated the living room. They celebrated with a bland meal and a movie.
"Then we danced," she said. "It was great."
Jan Harding said she isn't quite herself yet. She said her head still feels fuzzy, like a brain fog. Doctors will continue to monitor her throat for scar tissue.
While her throat heals, she said she hopes to see some good come out of an experience she wouldn't wish on anyone. She wants the restaurant industry to better train employees and make sure chemicals are stored with proper labels.
In July, a Dickey's employee was hurt when she tasted a mixture of chemicals and sugar. She was rearranging some bins and saw that the sugar bin was low. She reached into a another container and poured what appeared to be sugar into the bin. When she put a sample of the mix to her tongue, it started to blister and bleed, according to Jan Harding's attorney, Paxton Guymon.
The restaurant chain has not commented on either incident.
Family members say they aren't thinking about a lawsuit at this point because they want focus on Jan Harding getting better. She said she tries not to dwell on the past because it can't be changed.
"I have never once asked God or anyone else, 'Why me?' I don't know why me, but it was me. I have a very positive support system. They never ever left my side," Jan Harding said.
"God hasn’t failed me yet. He isn't gong to fail me in the future."
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