SALT LAKE CITY (BP) — The wife of a leading Southern Baptist in Utah was released from the hospital Saturday (Aug. 23) after nearly dying 13 days earlier when she took one sip of lye-tainted sweet tea.
Jan Harding, 67, was released from the University of Utah Health Care’s burn center on the 46th anniversary of her wedding in 1968 to Jim Harding, retired executive director of the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. The couple has served together in ministry for 40 years.
“The family came over and we just sat and looked at her,” Jim Harding said Monday morning of Jan Harding’s homecoming. “We are so happy she’s home.”
When he learned she was to be released, Harding purchased an oversized banner that said “Happy Anniversary” and hung it in the kitchen.
“We came in through the kitchen, so that’s the first thing she saw, and she started crying,” Harding said.
“God is faithful to what He says,” Jan Harding wrote Monday morning for her husband to read to a Baptist Press writer. “I’m so humbled by all who have lifted me into God’s presence through prayer. As my family has said, ‘God’s got us’ and He thankfully has.”
As she lay in her hospital bed, Jim Harding said his wife had been comforted by returning continually to a favorite passage of Scripture — Psalm 121:1-8:
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; He shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore” (KJV).
“We praise God for this rapid recovery from such a horrific injury,” longtime friend Dan Walker wrote in an email Saturday to many people he had kept posted for nearly two weeks about Jan Harding’s condition. Walker is executive director of the Salt Lake Baptist Association.
Jan and Jim Harding were to meet Walker and his wife Sherrie after church Aug. 10 at a Dickey’s barbecue restaurant that is part of a national chain. While waiting, Jan Harding filled a Dickey’s trademarked Big Yellow Cup with her usual sweet tea, covered it with a lid, stuck a straw in and took one delicate sip.
Immediately she bent over, spat out the liquid, choked, gagged and coughed. “I think I just drank acid,” she managed to gasp to her husband.
It wasn’t acid but lye — an alkaline-based cleaning solvent that inadvertently had been mixed in with sugar, it was later discovered.
Jan Harding hadn’t swallowed any of the tea, but droplets had mixed with her saliva and burned the upper third of her esophagus, doctors determined at the burn center of the University of Utah Health Care hospital. Acid burns the top layer of tissue before stabilizing alkaline, unless neutralized, continues to burn through until there are no more layers of tissue.
The chief of the burn unit was on duty at the time Jan Harding was admitted. He and his staff kept close watch as they treated her for the life-threatening burns down her throat.
“The doctors and nurses were absolutely excellent,” Jim Harding said. “We saw them emphasize not just the medical but the personal touches. They were attentive and concerned; they are a special group of people indeed.”
He also credited the prayers of people around the world.
A church member on mission in Kenya heard about it from a church newsletter, and when she asked the people she knew in Kenya to pray, they told her they already knew about it and were already praying.
A woman with family in Russia stopped by for a moment to the Hardings’ home on Sunday to say people in Russia were praying. A major newspaper in London had carried the story, and many people in the comments section said they were praying.
“The prayers of the world have been heard by God and He answered,” Jim Harding said. “God is awesome; that’s what I think about it.”
Jan Harding will continue to be monitored as she continues to heal. “But for now she is doing great,” Walker said. “We praise God for this rapid recovery from such a horrific injury.
“I can’t imagine anyone having a more supportive wife,” Walker continued. “As long as I’ve known Jim — 17 years now — Jan’s been just a rock. She’s always there with him. He talks to her; he appreciates her points of view. They’re just very much a team; they always work closely together.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).