Tara Hutchinson always knew she wanted to serve her country. She grew up in Alaska playing Army with her brother. She made her dream come true when she enlisted and began to work her way up the ranks in the Army.
By 2006, Sergeant First Class Tara Hutchinson was the only female squad leader in her company.
A Valentine's Day mission that year changed everything. An IED hit the truck Tara was in, blowing off the 4-inch-thick Kevlar door. Tara lost a lot of blood from a severe leg injury.
"When I got back, they put an oxygen mask over my face. And then my heart stopped and I don't remember anything," Tara said.
Her heart stopped for 20 minutes.
"My mom saw me sleeping and she saw my hands moving, like shaking while I was asleep. And she said, 'Something's not right there.' So she had them do an MRI of my head and that's when they found a whole part of my brain had died because of a lack of oxygen for 20 minutes that I didn't have," Tara said.
The part of Tara's brain that was damaged was the part that controls movement in hands and feet, making her movements jerky. She needed months of physical and occupational therapy. Tara didn't know how she would move forward with her life, and a career after such a drastic change.
Then one of her occupational therapists suggested she try a hobby that uses her hands. The idea was that it may help her improve her fine motor skills. Tara started making jewelry on a whim.
"It was so challenging," Tara said. "And I remember trying over and over and over. And every time I would go in, I would try it. And I would go home and try it."
Not only did jewelry making help Tara improve her fine motor skills, it eventually became her full time business. She started Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry, which she says has also helped her reclaim her life and self-worth.
Tara also recently won a grant from the Women's Jewelry Association for her work in the industry. "We believe in Tara’s drive to succeed and that she will be a rising star in our industry," the organization wrote.
She never expected to become a jewelry maker, but as she says, “things are made beautiful when they’re put through fire.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wounded veteran turned serious injury into jewelry business