Carolyn Guilford: Change Your Mind to Save Your LifeDec 26, 2020 02:28PM ● By Written by Cindy Reid | Photos by Michelle Holloway
“I grew up in a home with my mother and my aunt. My father died when I was young, so my aunt came to live with us. She was a nurse, and I would watch her getting dressed in the mornings, in her white hose, white uniform, and the crisp white nurse’s cap. She wore a beautiful blue cape with gold buttons and the pins. I wanted to be like her, I wanted to be a nurse. But I didn’t have a clue!”
After graduating high school, Carolyn attended the nursing program at Armstrong State University (now Georgia Southern Armstrong campus), graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree (she was a 3.8 Honors Grad). She was recruited by Savannah’s Candler General Hospital and chose to work in ICU, which required additional Critical Care certification that she received at Armstrong.
“I loved it. I stayed eight years a certified critical care nurse in Candler’s ICU department,” she says. “But I worked 7:00pm to 7:00am, and that was not my forte. I fell asleep at a school crossing. I stopped at the sign, with my foot on the brake and fell asleep. The crossing guard, who was a policeman that day, told me ‘Lady the night shift isn’t for everybody.’”
After leaving the hospital, Carolyn says, “I heard they needed a nurse at the Chatham County jail. The Sheriff told me if I took the job, my only job was to be the nurse, and I would never be in danger. He said, ‘Worry about your job and nothing else.’ Once he assured me that I was safe, I was good to go. They hired me that day and I was in heaven. I had the best time anyone ever had in jail!”
Carolyn had a desire to give back to her community and hometown of Savannah, and so she left Chatham County Sheriff's Dept. for a position with the International Epidemiology Institute for a research study—The Southern Community Cohort Study—which investigates the lifestyle habits of Southerners to learn why they have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than anywhere else in the world. The study conducted research via interview and biological samples over the course of three years in Savannah.
The study brought to light transformative information. Carolyn says, “Nutrition was the answer. Our bodies depend on what we put into them for growth, health, and our wellbeing. For keeping our hearts beating every day and our ability to think, walk and talk. Everything depends on the food we eat.”
She says, “It put everything in perspective for me. I had long before made the decision to stop eating pork and shellfish as the teen, based on what I read in Leviticus. Also, I could easily relate to patient’s poor health coming into the hospital and also in evaluating what the hospital provides for patients’ meals. I could see this connection between food and health.”
She was offered the opportunity to continue the research work at other sites when the Savannah site closed, but chose instead to remain at home, to be within the community. “That’s when I started Health Restoration Consulting, to teach people— especially critically ill clients suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer—what they didn’t know about nutrition.”
Health Restoration Consulting
Carolyn started her new venture, Health Restoration Consulting (HRC), in 2004. “It was scary because I didn’t have a plan, but my heart was in it. I was known in the community, from being a home health nurse, and assisting people in my church, and from interviewing so many people while working with the Southern Community Cohort Study. I was already connected to a large group, so the networking was easy. Wherever I went, I had the opportunity to tell people about my new venture HRC.”
Health Restoration Consulting evolved over time. “Initially I would go with whatever the client needed, from in home care, to nutritional guidance or support in getting resources, or as an advocate at the doctor’s office or hospital. I would talk to my clients about how to manage their diabetes, or finding the right care for them, whatever they needed. I was all over the place!”
Over time, Wellness Education moved into the forefront of her services, but she says” I still see clients one on one. Persons with cancer particularly need a lot of one on one. My work is different from the mainstream, it’s very personalized.”
In addition, Carolyn conducts “cooking school” classes for her clients. She says, “People who don’t cook don’t know what they are eating, and I believe not knowing is a disadvantage when it comes to health and wellbeing. And topics such as ‘What is sugar, and how much is okay?’ ‘How to eat ‘clean,’’ ‘How processing changes food,’ ‘How to distinguish between healthy food and something to eat,’ and ‘How to maximize nutrient value in meals’ are vitally important.”
“My clients are very receptive because it’s their health and their lives on the line. But this goes against most societal and cultural norms around food consumption,” Carolyn says. “But our love of fast, easy, and cheap is never going to be the best for you.”
She says cooking nutritious food is second nature to her. “I never ate anything that was not made by someone who didn’t know and love me. I didn’t eat in a restaurant until I was in college. When you eat out you are entrusting your wellbeing to folk who don’t know you.”
But Carolyn says the biggest offender to a healthy lifestyle is television. “Watch in moderation!” She suggests her clients turn off the TV and read the materials she provides, so they can understand the science and research behind making new choices. She says her clients need to make lifestyle changes and practice new behaviors such as going to bed earlier, learning meditation, cooking more, getting more fresh air and sunlight, and eating out less.
There are many benefits to better nutrition, including regaining control and independence. “Clients need a lot of support and information, and when they get five to ten days into the ‘clean eating’ program they start to feel better. Profound life changes can take a long time, but I have had persons on track for dialysis, whose kidneys were functioning better in just three months or less.”
She stresses her programs all start with being ready to change, “because no amount of information or support matters until you have the ‘mindset to change’.”
Carolyn says, “I put my heart and soul into my clients success and wellbeing. I don’t have a thousand clients but folks who are serious about changing their lives find me. I know it’s difficult for them. Diabetes is hard. Heart disease is hard. Cancer is extremely hard. Start with an open mind because if you can change your mind, you can save your life!”
Carolyn was born and raised in Savannah and says, “I have traveled to a lot of places, and still call Savannah home.”
She overcame a fear of flying early in her career. “I was offered a Cancer Biology Fellowship at Scripps Research Institute in LaJolla, California. I had to fly into San Diego alone, and I was not going to pass that up. My fear of flying immediately evaporated! So, now I have flown so many times I have lost count, in fact I have been flown to a client’s home for consultation.”
In addition to personal visits, for her clients, Carolyn will do phone calls, Facetime, Zoom, whatever they feel most comfortable using. She says Covid-19 has made it harder for people because they are staying home more, eating more convenience foods, and watching lots of stressful news on television.
“I have been using this time for reading, researching, supporting clients, and catching up on chores at home. I am often their accountability partner and we communicate via phone, emails and texts.”
When she is not working with her clients, Carolyn likes to go to the beach and enjoys museums and concerts— especially jazz events—“all the things that aren’t happening right now,” she says. But she still enjoys cooking for people.
On Thanksgiving she cooked for her clients and friends, who came by and picked up food throughout the day, making what could have been a lonely holiday for people so much brighter.
Regarding her path from admiring her aunt’s beautiful blue nurse’s cape to wellness coach, nutritionist and author Carolyn says, “It’s been an amazing journey that I feel honored and blessed to have shared with so many along the way.”