Woman who almost died from 'toxic tea' speaks about recovery

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Woman Who Almost Died From 'Toxic Tea' Speaks About Recovery

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, UTAH - 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.

Woman who almost died from 'toxic tea' speaks about recovery
FILE - This Aug. 14, 2014, file photo, shows a sign at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in South Jordan, Utah. As prosecutors mull whether charges are warranted against employees at the Utah restaurant where a woman nearly died after unknowingly drinking toxic tea, the woman's husband and son are set to talk publicly Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, about her recovery. Authorities say a worker unintentionally put a chemical cleaning compound containing lye in a sugar bag last month. The substance ended up in Harding's glass of iced tea after an employee mixed it into a beverage dispenser. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2014, file photo, attorney Paxton Guymon holds a photograph of Jim and Jan Harding during a news conference in Salt Lake City. Jan Harding, 67, who nearly died after unknowingly drinking iced tea mixed with chemicals has been released from a Salt Lake City hospital. Harding has been slowly improving since Aug. 10, when she drank a single sip of sweetened iced tea at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan, a Salt Lake City suburb. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Attorney Paxton Guymon holds a photograph of Jim and Jan Harding following a news conference Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Jan Harding, 67, drank sweet tea containing a toxic cleaning chemical, severely burning her mouth and throat at a Utah restaurant after an employee mistook the substance for sugar and mixed it into a dispenser. Harding is listed in good condition at a Salt Lake City hospital as she continues to improve. Authorities say a worker at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan unintentionally put the chemical cleaning compound in a sugar bag last month. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
FILE - This Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, file photo, shows a sign displayed in the window of Dickey's Barbecue Pit in South Jordan, Utah. As prosecutors mull whether charges are warranted against employees at the Utah restaurant where a woman nearly died after unknowingly drinking toxic tea, the woman's husband and son are set to talk publicly Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, about her recovery. Authorities say a worker unintentionally put a chemical cleaning compound containing lye in a sugar bag last month. The substance ended up in Harding's glass of iced tea after an employee mixed it into a beverage dispenser. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Jim Harding speaks about his wife, who drank sweet tea containing a toxic cleaning chemical, severely burning her mouth and throat at a Utah restaurant after an employee mistook the substance for sugar and mixed it into a dispenser during a news conference Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Jan Harding, 67, is listed in good condition at a Salt Lake City hospital as she continues to improve. Authorities say a worker at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan unintentionally put the chemical cleaning compound in a sugar bag last month. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Dickey's Barbecue Pit is shown Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in South Jordan, Utah. Police say a woman was in extremely critical condition after drinking sweet tea laced with an industrial cleaning chemical at Dickey's Barbecue Pit. South Jordan Police Cpl. Sam Winkler says the 67-year-old woman was eating at Dickey's Barbecue Pit on Sunday when she poured herself a glass of tea from the beverage bar. Winkler says the woman took a sip and her mouth started burning. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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"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."


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