How flying pigs save children

Alicia Y Gonzales (Flickr)

Alicia Y Gonzales (Flickr)

I grew up in Estevan a small town in the southeast of Saskatchewan province in Canada. The area, known as the 'bread basket' of the world, is industrious. Our family had a half-section hobby farm, but it was nothing like our neighbours'. They had hectares and hectares of cattle ranches and grain farms. The point is, I know the ingenuity and down to earth goodness of that 'working boots' group.

Early on in my adult life, opportunity brought me to Medicine Hat, Alberta, where, with a business partner we built a small oil and natural gas company that grew from zero to $178 MM in value over five years. Living and working in Medicine Hat was where I met David Hardy.

Hardy was an interesting fellow.  At the time of our initial meeting, he was trying to stay out of jail. The judicial system branded Hardy a criminal. To fight the label, he surrounded himself with lawyers and such related allies for his advocacy. When he spoke of his dilemma, Hardy appeared like a vicious trained fighting dog-hair on the nape of his neck erect, teeth bared. His entire demeanor consumed with fight, with not just City Hall, but also the Feds in Ottawa and the province of Alberta. I just couldn't imagine the heart ache of such a battle.

What had Canada's new most wanted criminal done? I was curious. Hardy was a salesman of veterinarian supplies. He traveled the provinces of Canada working with Canadian ranchers and veterinarians to supply animal vaccines, medicine, feed, vitamins and such. And he was enthusiastic with his job, becoming a top rated salesman for his company. Not only did Hardy supply products, but he also was an avid rancher. With that foundation in mind, let's now flash back a few years.

Tony Stephan was a fellow rancher of Hardy's; they were ranching neighbours. That meant you accepted a knock on your door 24/7/365 as ranching/farming neighbours worked together to solve problems. Farmers and Ranchers have a code that city folk never really experience, or learn for that matter. Stephan was going thru a difficult patch. Stephan's wife, Deborah, killed herself the year before, after struggling with manic depression, and losing her father to suicide. It was the worst of times. Now two of Stephan's ten children, were exhibiting similar symptoms to his wife and her father. Stephan just needed a friend and a few shots of whiskey. So there the two men sat around the kitchen table the room tainted with the smell of malt liquor whiskey.   

A chilly November, 1995, winter's evening, when Dave says to the distraught neighbour, Tony Stephan (a few shots in): "What your family is going thru sounds like ear-and-tail-biting syndrome in hogs, no offense intended. We worked for years to find a cure, and now we have it." 

Ear-and-tail-biting syndrome happens when pigs are penned in close quarters for long periods. A small portion of the pig population looses it, becoming so irritable they eat their pen mates’ ears and tails, often also trying to kill or harm themselves. A problem not only for the pig, but also for the rancher who is trying to market his ear-less, tail-less pigs. 

Well that conversation led to many more and the two men hatched their plan. Could a hog barn cure, work on humans? Stephan didn't care, he wasn't going to loose his kids, ten in total, to this terrible disease. Joseph, one son, exhibited symptoms of this mental darkness, and his daughter Autumn and her newborn baby, were in psychiatric hospital on 24 hour suicide watch.  After all, the two men reasoned, the treatment for hogs was simply massive doses of a specific formula of vitamins and minerals injected into the blood stream on a regular basis. How could vitamins and mineral injections be harmful to humans?

The two men set out to create a human version of Hardy’s pig formula. They bought bottles of vitamins and minerals from the local health-food store and spent nights at Stephan’s kitchen table concocting mixtures. And they had a few empty whiskey bottles for storage of their miracle formula. On January 20, 1996, these two mad scientists gave Joseph the first injected dose. For those that don't know, ranchers are extremely skilled with needles, injections, and such, it's a daily part of their life taking care of their herds.  Within a few days, Joseph felt better than he had in months. After 30 days, all the symptoms of his illness disappeared. Joseph smiled for the first time in years. I really choke up at this. As a father I can imagine the joy of holding his formerly distraught and now cured, happy, son in his arms.


Next up Autumn, Stephan's daughter. Here it got rough. The two men could only visit Autumn in hospital. Thankfully the staff allowed the father private visits. Autumn's mental state had steadily deteriorated for years. She was psychotic, convinced she had a gaping hole in her chest from which demons emerged. She was on suicide watch, requiring 24-hour supervision to ensure she didn’t hurt either herself or her 3-year-old baby. She reminded Hardy of the pigs, clawing and biting at anything, throwing themselves at walls, now the human version of that sickness lay in front of him on her hospital bed.

Stephan, with Hardy's help, held her down and forcibly injected her with the nutritional formula. Wow, I just can't imagine! But her screams were common in the hospital, and no one noticed. After just two days of this radical treatment, her rapid swings between mania and depression subsided and then stopped. After four days her hallucinations vanished. “Oh my gosh, my hole is gone,” Autumn recalls. By week’s end, she felt well enough to quit all but one of her five doctor prescribed medications.

Many years later, both Autumn and Joseph remain symptom free, medication free, and devoted to taking what they call “the nutrients” each day. Autumn is an articulate woman with bright eyes who revels in being a full-time mother to her son and the three daughters she’s had since getting well. “I don’t feel I’m cured,” she says. “I feel I’ve got something that allows me to manage and have a normal, functional life—maybe even better than functional.”

Hardy and Stephan, inspired by Stephan's families success, started a bit of a kitchen table clinic. Gladly, they injected other people with their formula, and apparently they were curing many. As word spread they had long lines out the house door on some days. And word spread to a city mayor, then a provincial government official and all the way up to capitol hill, Ottawa. Once Ottawa intervened the two men where charged as criminals. Last I heard, Hardy and Stephan were not permitted in using their cure for anyone except family, and they were fighting with a government appointed scientist who researched the issue for Ottawa. At least they stayed out of jail.

I know there are a lot of ethical and medical issues that come to light in this story, and certainly I'm not a worthy judge. I do wonder if I would have had the courage to fight City hall as these men did. I do recognize the selfless love of a father and a helpful neighbour and somehow that makes the world a better place. And lastly, I know which door I would knock on in the middle of the night if I had a similar family medical problem. Wouldn't you?

Catherine Macbride (Flickr)

Catherine Macbride (Flickr)