In August 2013 I was in the best shape of my life thanks to my addiction to power yoga and lots of weight and aerobic gym classes. I’d been camping and hiking and honestly feeling a little prideful that an exhausting hike had been so easy for me. My husband and I had gotten separated from our group, and found ourselves standing on a rock ledge and deciding how to get down. My husband said, “If I were young and in shape I’d jump from here.” Well, my pride got the better of me and I jumped! Really it was not that far. They say it was only 9 feet, but I guess 9 feet down is enough when landing wrong on a rock to break my back! I start yelling in pain. 911 sent in a ground crew to access me and then life flight came. They strapped me down and ziplined me up to a hovering helicopter and flew me to the nearest hospital.
The doctor’s said it would be 6 weeks before I could go back to yoga and exercise. I was not sure I’d survive another 24 hours without yoga, but I could hardly move so that helped keep me down, but it didn’t keep the tears from pouring out! What does an exercise addict do with a very busy life when bed rest hits suddenly? Cry and delete all my yoga/gym classes off my iPhone schedule, journal, read, find lots of rides for my four kids to their four different schools and activities, get others to help cover my church and volunteer commitments and real estate business and WAIT for my body to heal!
I thought 6 weeks would never come. When it did, I was quite aware that my body was not ready for yoga, but I was dying to move so I went to the gym and joined the water aerobics class. It was nice to get out, fun to move, a little odd exercising with grandparents in the pool, and cold, too cold!
After about a month of too cold water aerobics I felt like I could carefully go back to yoga and boy was that a happy day. But instead of taking every challenge like I used to, I had to baby every move in an attempt to not enflame my tender back. In typical Type A fashion I did my best to ignore the hip pain that I was also experiencing. Bad idea! By December 2013 I was starting to limp a bit when I walked because of the left hip pain and then I had to start missing yoga days. Nooooooooooo!
Another month passed and I had to stop exercising completely. I could not even walk in a pool because my hip hurt so bad. The doctor ordered an MRI to see what they could find. Unfortunately they found a black round circle in my femur bone that sent us on a wild goose chase trying to figure out what that was. They didn’t think it was cancer but sent me to the UCSD Morris Cancer Center to check it out. At first the orthopedic surgeon thought I had some missing bone and recommended surgery to put screws into my hip to keep my hip from breaking. More tests were ordered, and I ended up having a severe allergic reaction from a bone scan injection. As the days went on my body was becoming paralyzed, and I begin losing my ability to move and speak. Doctors didn’t think it was an allergic reaction but thought maybe MS or Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Off to the neurologist I went for an MRI of the brain.
At the peak of the paralysis I was in bed and couldn’t move and was so scared. I needed help. I couldn’t reach my phone that was right next to me. I struggled and finally got to where I could push the speed dial button. My husband answered, and I tried to speak but couldn’t. Before I knew it he was standing at our bed with my parents who happened to be in the neighborhood. They wanted to take me to the ER, but I whispered a faint no. For some reason they listened to me and stayed by my side, talking my pulse as they waited. My dad and husband gave me a priesthood blessing. Within a few hours the feeling started coming back, and I was able to speak and sit up.
The next morning a lovely friend from church who is one of those so healthy people that you wonder if it’s healthy to be that healthy, was sitting on my bed with a basket of health remedies to cure me. She had a mix of green powders and herbs and vitamins, oils etc. She spoke to me of health and the body’s ability to heal. She cried and read the Word of Wisdom to me. I thought the health talk was a bit over the top, however I clearly needed help, and she peaked my interest and wonder about health and put me on a detox that minute!
The following week, after a review of my bone scan and hip issues, the doctor thought my hip would break if I put any pressure on it and considered doing a hip replacement. They ordered another MRI and handed me crutches. How does a mom of four, realtor, and Relief Society president live her life on crutches, not to mention all the other drama I’d been through breaking my back? How do you open the fridge without letting go of the crutches? How do you do anything?!? I strategically placed rolly desk chairs around my house so I could scoot with my good leg from fridge to counter, to the blender to make my detox green drinks, from the washer to the dryer and so on.
After reviewing my MRI, they told me “Your left hip ligament is torn really bad. I mean really bad. Like you were in a horrific car accident. Your hip was pulled out of the socket so hard during your back break landing and snapped back. It’s extremely stretched out and needs four months to heal but the good news is you don’t need the crutches.” Happy day! More tears! No cancer, no MS, no hip replacement, no Guillain-Barré, no wheel chair, no crutches. Happy dance, ouch, my hip, and back!
In the meantime, those green drinks started working. I was starting to get some feeling back in my arms and legs! My mom introduced me to the Green Smoothie Girl’s books, and I got to go to one of her lectures. I replaced my typical chocolate protein powder breakfast shake which I blended in dairy milk with a green drink and that started changing my tastes and my food choices. I went from a crazy calorie counter to only counting the health I was putting in my mouth. My weight actually started to drop a bit even though I was doing almost no exercise.
My mom also introduced me to Chef Brad’s Fusion Grain Cooking show. I loved adding more grain into our family’s diet. I was really excited because the Word of Wisdom, in addition to many other things, says to eat meat sparingly, and I was doing the opposite. I was caught up in the high protein diets of the day and avoiding carbs like grains. I started using half the amount of meat in my recipes and adding grains instead. It was yummy and healthy, and my family only complained a little, LOL!
My hip got better but my back was still giving me so much trouble. I was in constant pain and thinking I might have to have back surgery as all my holistic approaches were not giving me enough pain relief to live my life or even sit in a chair!
I ended up having back surgery May 18, 2015. Surgery went well minus a lung puncture that was not in the plan. They fused L2-L3 and replaced the disk with a synthetic one, and I was stitched up in 6 different places on my back and side 7 hours later. Recovery was pretty tough! I remember they said I had to sit up in the hospital the first day after surgery. Sitting sounded like an impossible task as my body felt so beat up and really unmovable. But before I knew it I was sitting up and walking with a walker and back brace and headed back home to recover.
As time passed my interest in health grew. Before my surgery in October 2014 I did the Green Smoothie Girl 26 day detox which is vegan! When the detox was done, the thought of meat really turned my stomach, and I started cooking with grains and veggies instead of meat. My family was not too happy so every once in a while I’d add a small amount of meat to dinner but it just seemed gross to make a delicious dinner and then add some chopped up animals in it. Nasty! I really can’t believe there was a time when I ate meat for almost every meal! My body didn’t crave it anymore, and my brain and mouth were totally repulsed by it.
During my back surgery recovery I decided I wanted to read more health books and study the Word of Wisdom to a deeper level. Most people know that Mormons don’t smoke or use tobacco or drink alcohol or coffee or tea or use illicit drugs, but I realized the Word of Wisdom encourages us to only eat meat in times of winter or cold or famine. We are also instructed that grains are to be the staff of life and to eat fruits and herbs, and we are promised great blessings of health and knowledge by following this law.
My kids are now, 9, 12, 15, 18 and I feel bad for the damage I did feeding them the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet.) I am very grateful to my family who has been very understanding and open minded about what I’ve learned recently and have not complained (too much) about all the changes in the kitchen. And they are learning and sharing this information with others too, which really warms my heart! Today my 15-year-old daughter said she wants to be like me when she grows up, especially teaching her family to be healthy. And, I caught my 18-year-old reading a health book I put on our kitchen table after I had reviewed it with my family in a family home evening. My 12-year-old comes home from school and church and other actives and tells me of the unhealthy treats she passed up. My 9-year-old likes to teach people how to eat right too, although he has the hardest time doing it, still but we keep trying. And my husband who has always been a meat and dairy guy is no longer! Amazing!
I’ve been blessed in many ways. After I moved to a whole food, plant-based diet and took dairy out of my diet the weird taste in my mouth that I could never seem to get rid of was gone! I had been chewing gum ever since I was about 12 years old until I was 39 before I cut diary and that weird taste went away. I was also taking a lot of Pepto-Bismol tablets before I dropped dairy. I used to get bad stomach aches! I had given up gluten about 7 years ago when after a few years of intestinal upset I figured out the culprit. I now mill my own gluten free grains for cooking which might sound hard but it’s so simple!
Weight wise I’m not one of those skinny type kids/adults. That is why I was always an exerciser and calorie counter because if I didn’t pay attention for one day my pants were tight the next! When I went on a whole food, plant-based diet I stopped counting calories and now eat for good health. And I lost weight! I’m a mom of four who wears a size 4 and due to my back injury, for the most part have not exercised much for 2 years. My health has also improved on a whole food, plant-based diet. I used to get colds a lot. No more!
On the spiritual side I feel like I have always been in tune with God, and He speaks to me a lot. I’ve really enjoyed this journey of studying the Word of Wisdom at a deeper level, and I love sharing this information with others. The last time I was going to cook meat, as I reached for it, the Spirit said, “Is this a time of winter or hunger or famine?” Out loud I said, “No” and put the meat back in the freezer. It’s been many months now since I’ve cooked meat, and I feel like that is the right thing to do for our health and our spiritual obedience. God has also blessed us with financial abundance recently so that I am able to pay for all my therapy to heal my back from surgery and one day get back to yoga. God is good.
People think we (whole food, plant-based or vegetarian or vegan) are a bit over the top, but we know what will happen to us and our environment if we continue on the S.A.D path. I am grateful that as a side benefit of getting myself and my family healthy, we are respecting God’s creations, the animals, and the Earth. I know our church is not the Church of the Word of Wisdom, as a healthy friend of mine says, but I now feel like her, that I could bear my testimony of the do’s of the Word of Wisdom. What a blessing we have in this revelation, and I’m glad I finally caught on to the depth of it, not just the don’ts!
Jenny Harkleroad is 39 years old and lives in Escondido (San Diego County), California. She and her husband of 20 years have four kids ages 9, 12, 15, and 18. She is a homemaker and realtor. She loves to cook, garden, fundraise for kids’ charities, sail, vacation and spend time with her husband and kids. She also loves the spa and hanging out with her best friend Kelli. She is looking forward to yoga and gym when her body heals!