“Reader’s Digest Saved My Life!”: 12 People Share Their Incredible Stories

Grateful readers recount how our magazine got them diagnoses, treatment, and—most importantly—their lives back.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Reader’s Digest, we are looking back at some of our best moments from the past ten decades. Head here for more on our milestone anniversary.  

Grateful readers recount how our magazine got them diagnoses, treatment, and—most importantly—their lives back. Before Dr. Google, there was Dr. Reader’s Digest—“the public’s leading source of medical information,” as the influential Duke psychologist Kelly Brownell, PhD, called Reader’s Digest in a 2009 study. Indeed, millions of people might read one of our health articles and then—when a mysterious symptom raises questions—recall its advice and be alerted to act. Sometimes they’re even able to help inform their doctors.

When we asked readers how this magazine has influenced their lives, the responses included very specific, vivid tales of how (in their words) “Reader’s Digest saved my life.” These are some of the stories they shared:

1. “I yelled at my husband, ‘This is what I have!’ ” —Deborah Barber, of East Pharsalia, New York, after reading an April 2013 article about a patient being diagnosed with achalasia. The condition causes 1 in 100,000 people mysterious, excruciating indigestion and vomiting. Barber had surgery the following week. “My family was amazed that I found out what was wrong in Reader’s Digest, after years of going to five different doctors,” she says.

2. “I was starting to drive away ­after visiting a friend when her mom ran out to our car. ‘I just want to thank you again,’ she said. ‘Big Bob has lived 20 more years because of you!’ It was because of ­Reader’s Digest too. I remember the incident like it was yesterday: My friend and I were watching TV in their basement when we heard a thud. Her dad had fallen and was mumbling incoherently. Her mom didn’t want to trouble the doctor so late, but I was thinking that I’d read about all his symptoms in an RD story about strokes. When my friend said I was worrying them for nothing, I questioned ­myself—but the symptoms were there. Her mom finally called the doctor, who discovered that Bob’s blood pressure was off the charts. My advice: Stick to your guns. It was a stroke.” —Andrea Hess, Brunswick, Maine. [In 1994, the National Stroke Association said our article “will literally be saving hundreds of lives.”]

3. “Cigarettes were killing me. I had a chronic hacking cough and could never clear my throat. When I had a scary heart episode, to calm myself I had a smoke. Crazy, huh? Then my Reader’s Digest arrived, with an article that suggested that to quit smoking, you should breathe deeply, as if you were taking a draw off a cigarette. It worked! I stopped cold turkey that day. I’m sure it saved my life.” —Rita Chapman Black, Hanceville, Alabama

4. “My health advice is pray and pick up a Reader’s Digest.” —G.P.B. of Ooltewah, ­Tennessee, who helped his mother’s doctors ­diagnose her mini strokes by ­showing them an article that prompted them to discover a ­congenital flaw in her heart and perform ­lifesaving surgery

5. “When my husband and I first married, he started complaining of feeling foggy-headed and having a metallic taste in his mouth. Then I came across an RD article about ‘fish fog’—mercury poisoning from too much fish. It clicked. His favorite snack was tuna salad. He cut out tuna and his fog lifted. I hate to think what might have happened if I hadn’t read that article.” —Jennifer Messeder, Lee, New Hampshire

6. “My eyes had chronic broken blood vessels. The skin on my arms tore at the littlest bump. My hair fell out, and coarse black hair began growing on my face, thighs, and arms. Warts covered my fingers and the heels of my feet. I started gaining weight at an alarming rate.

I was tested for von Willebrand disease, a blood disorder similar to hemophilia. Negative. My thyroid was tested. Negative. The symptoms continued to pile up. After 14 years I had consulted five different physicians, all of them stumped.

Our Reader’s Digest arrived in the mail, and as I read ‘Misdiagnosed,’ the cover story about a woman with Cushing’s disease, I knew this was me. My symptoms matched hers. I went straight to my doctor’s office and gave her the article. She told me that Cushing’s was very rare, and she didn’t think I had it. I started crying, and my doctor said it couldn’t hurt to test me. My results came back. I had a pituitary tumor and Cushing’s, just like the woman in the story.

I had brain surgery and am now an active and healthy 66-year-old. Thank you. I am forever grateful.” —Deva Andrews, Thousand Oaks, California

7. “I was born in Pittsburgh in 1945, and the doctors didn’t know why I was dying. My mother asked about the ‘Rh baby’ stuff she’d read in Reader’s Digest. She knew she was Rh-negative, but for some reason the doctors didn’t. When my parents heard that news, they got a doctor involved who happened to be doing research on Rh factor, and she saved me. My mother always told everyone the story how Reader’s Digest saved my life. I am supposedly the oldest Rh baby in the world.” —Peggy Honts, Rockville, Maryland

8. “I was pregnant with my first child and having terrible headaches and nausea. My OB/GYN couldn’t see me until the following week, and I couldn’t Google my symptoms because it was before the Internet. I called my dad about my symptoms, and he said, ‘I just read an article in Reader’s Digest, and it sure sounds like you have toxemia or preeclampsia.’

My dad demanded I go to the ER. I did and was promptly admitted with—drum roll—preeclampsia. I almost died, but instead I gave birth to a boy two months premature. I had one more child, a daughter, who was also born premature, due to toxemia. If RD hadn’t printed that story, my dad wouldn’t have read it, I would have waited a week to seek medical attention, and I would likely not be here to email you.” —Leslie Bowman, Missoula, Montana

9. “Suicidal thoughts came. But when I read your story, you told me that it will end.” —Michael Niño Ramirez of Quezon City, Philippines, writing to editor Bonnie Munday, whose first-person account of recovering from panic attacks was published in international editions of Reader’s Digest. “Your story came out in 2018, but it saved me in 2020,” Ramirez told her. “You encouraged me to face my fears.”

10. “Miraculously, his airway cleared. My wonderful son lived. And now he’s a doctor.” —Judy Hoopman of Fredericksburg, Texas, describing how her two-year-old son was choking when she remembered reading about the brand-new Heimlich maneuver and “frantically applied the technique.”

11. “I was 11 months old. The bathtub had only six inches of water. My mother left to warm my bottle and returned to find me facedown and blue. She remembered reading in Reader’s Digest that you could blow air into drowning victims, which she did. A recent immigrant, she’d subscribed to improve her English. After that she swore to subscribe for the rest of her life. Another woman saved a child in Sausalito, California, when she remembered the same article [‘The Day My Son Drowned,’ August 1958].” —Monika Kinstler, Manchester, Connecticut

12. “My teacher read ‘What the Cigarette Commercials Don’t Show’ to us. It’s by a 44-year-old man with throat cancer due to smoking. He describes his horrifying hospital stay, his wife’s pain, his children’s pain, and the battle to save his voice, which he loses along with his larynx and pharynx. He also describes the beautiful people in the smoking ads on TV. All the people in my family were smokers. Not me—every time I wanted to smoke, I reread the article. Many years later, I taught biology and read it to my students. I told them, if they were ever tempted to smoke, to remember what I read to them.” —Elise Vitow, Lawrence, New York

Next, learn why Steven Pinker thinks we should be hopeful for the future and what the next 100 years may bring.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest