Jennifer Sutherland gently touched the beaded necklace as it was clasped around her neck. A piece of jewelry could hardly make up for what she had been through, but the gesture and the thought behind it made her cry softly.
During an informal ceremony at Keck Hospital of USC in May, CEO Scott Evans told her that the gift was a way to remember that even though she would soon be leaving the hospital after two months, she had friends who would be there for her.
“This gives you something to hold onto and look at,” Evans said. “It’s a token to say we’re here with you all the time.”
The necklace was one of 725 similar pieces being given to female patients at Keck Hospital and USC Norris Cancer Hospital in recognition of their great courage and inspiration to others. The jewelry was the idea of Carol Mollett, president of Town & Gown of USC, the university’s longest serving support organization.
Sutherland’s story is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. After wearing a pair of second-hand boots for the first time, the 42-year-old animal groomer and former police officer noticed that one her legs was swollen and blistered. Within days, she was in a hospital in her hometown of Bakersfield with an infection so bad that her organs had shut down. There were multiple complications, and she ultimately endured 23 operations during her 10 months in that hospital.
She was transferred to the Keck Medical Center in March, where her can-do spirit immediately captured the staff. But her leg was not healing, so she made a tough decision — she was ready to get on with her life, even if it meant having the limb amputated. She had the procedure three weeks before she returned home. She spent at least three hours a day receiving occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy while in the inpatient rehab unit.
“I’m pretty proud of myself,” she said. “I made it this far. I wasn’t ready to be sick, but I fought it hard. I have no regrets.”
A jewelry hobbyist, Mollett donated more than 6,400 beads to the effort. In all, 144 people worked on the project as part of the USC Alumni Association’s Day of Service in March. Next year, Mollett hopes to make 1,000 necklaces. The Trojan League of Los Angeles, the Trojan Guild of Los Angeles and the Trojan League Association of the Foothills also worked on the project.
“We’re giving them to someone who is struggling in their lives and letting them know we care,” said Mollett, who, as a teen, spent her 18th birthday in the hospital. “I know those dark days,” she said. “I want to bring some light into people’s lives and let them know they are not alone in their journey.”
As for Sutherland, she is already working on getting a prosthetic leg and hopes to be back to her normal routine soon. And she w