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Army Sgt. 1st Class Tara Hutchinson was so severely wounded after her Humvee was hit by an IED in Iraq her heart stopped twice. In the months that followed, she would undergo over a dozen surgeries, including the amputation of her right leg.
But the most devastating wound of all was the one that stole her independence — an injury to her brain that caused an uncontrolled, Parkinson's-like shaking of her hands.
A smoker at the time, her hands shook so badly they would spasm and throw her cigarette across the room. She'd walk over the cigarette and force her trembling hands to try to pick it up. No sooner would she do so than the involuntary movements would send it flying across the room again.
For a tomboy who grew up playing army with her older brother in Anchorage, Alaska, having to depend on others to do everyday tasks was frustrating beyond words.
Chronic pain, narcotics, loss of mobility, an inability to perform the most routine tasks that others take for granted — soon she found herself slipping into a deep depression. She began to miss physical-rehabilitation appointments because she was unable to get out of bed.
That was when one of her therapists suggested she do something with her hands to see if she could regain some motor control.
"I asked her what I could do and she said, 'Make jewelry, try jewelry,'" Hutchinson told Newsmax.
It began with the simplest of tasks, stringing a leather cord through beads with large holes.
"For literally weeks, I tried to do it," she recalled. "I tried it, and I tried it, and I tried it for weeks.
"Then finally one day, I realized my hands were almost back to where they were before my injury. It was incredible to me that that had happened just from stringing a bead with a leather cord."
In an example of what doctors call neuroplasticity, her brain had developed new circuitry that enabled her to bypass the damaged areas. Suddenly, she could use her hands again, and the trembling subsided.
She spent the next two years poring over books, websites, and YouTube videos, learning everything she possibly could about jewelry.
Soon she had a closet full of her own pieces. But she was afraid to show them, afraid how she might react to a negative review.
Finally, her mother urged her to hold a show for her neighbors, and the response was overwhelming.
"People just loved my jewelry," she told Newsmax, "and they really liked the story that came with my jewelry. And that was when I realized: This must have been why this devastating event happened."
In 2013, she took the bold step of launching her own jewelry business, TaraHutchJewelry.com. Now, Hutchinson is preparing to open a retail location in San Antonio, Texas, and hopes to show her jewelry at one of the big jewelry exhibitions in New York City.
The business' mission statement is to "create jewelry to help women who might not feel that beautiful on the inside start to heal their self-confidence."
She explains: "When I was first injured, I remember looking in the mirror and just crying, because I felt not even like a woman, I felt like not a person, not a human. . . . So I know what it feels like to not feel beautiful."
But if it hadn't been for the wounds she suffered, she never would have had an opportunity to help others through her inspirational story of recovery and redemption. She calls the whole experience "a God thing." She uses her own life's narrative to encourage veterans and non-veterans alike to strive to better themselves, and to find their own higher purpose.
That's one thing, it seems, people and jewelry have in common.
"People who go through fire," she said, "come out more brilliant than before."
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