You never know when life will give you the opportunity to meet someone who will inspire you in ways you could never have imagined. I met one of these amazing ladies in March 2020 during the InDependent Wellness Summit – a virtual retreat for military and first-responder spouses. Not only was this Summit a chance to prioritize personal health, but an opportunity to make connections with other military families.
While scrolling through the Summit Facebook group, I ran across a comment from DJ Sutterfield. She already loved Charliemadison bracelets and our company’s mission and she commented that she was a military caregiver and would love if it we could create a bracelet especially for caregivers. And then she shared her personal journey as a caregiver – as the tears streamed down my face, I felt an immediate connection with her family.
DJ’s Story as a Caregiver, in Her Own Words
I served as a medic on active duty for a few years. I had some medical training, but I had never worked with burn patients. I had trauma experience but quickly changed career fields after a few weeks at that job. Detaching myself from the patient was always an issue for me. I saw things that I just could not forget. What was I getting myself into?
On July 20, 2018 my youngest son, Zachary Sutterfield was critically injured in an apartment fire in San Marcos, TX. He moved to San Marcos just 9 days prior to attend Texas State University. Zachary received 3rd degree, full thickness burns to 68% of his body and he became a double amputee due to the burns to his hands.
He also suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as a result of jumping from the 2nd story of the apartment complex. He was airlifted to the US Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, TX, where he arrived as a DOA John Doe.
The hospital became my home away from home and the staff became my family. They taught me about burns, wound care, physical rehabilitation, daily living skills, and so much more. Each day was challenging but each day was a blessing. I provided daily care for not only the 68% of Zach’s body that was burned but also for his TBI.
Wound care ranged from 3-5 hours a day. I was blessed that the hospital allowed me to treat my son. Caring for him there gave me the strength for when I was going to be alone with him.
I quickly detached myself as his mother and became his caregiver. This was and continues to be one of the most difficult things that I have ever done in my life. The memories are instilled in my mind and will be there forever. There are some things that your mind just does not let you forget. That being said, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Zach left inpatient at BAMC on February 1, 2019 and came to live at the Fisher House with me. In the Fisher House I not only provided the daily necessary wound care, I taught my son how to become independent again. This was and is an ongoing event.
The Fisher House provided opportunities for me to teach him how to cook again, make a bed, fold clothes and many other basic tasks that we all take for granted. I will always be indebted to the Fisher House for the support that they and the other Fisher House families gave me. We lived there until October 25, 2019 - the day we finally were able to bring Zach home to San Angelo, TX.
We will be headed to Florida for more medical treatments. Our journey isn’t over, and we have years of recovery. Zach is back in college and he’s taking classes online with Angelo State University. He still plans on becoming a teacher, a lawyer and one day he wants to work in politics. I will continue to empower and encourage him along the way.
I hope our story is a reminder of just how important each day is. Becoming his caregiver gave me purpose and hope. The love of those who surrounded me and became my caregiver gave me the strength I needed to weather this storm.
The fire was ruled arson. The crime is still under investigation.
The Caregiver Bracelet
When DJ asked about creating a caregiver bracelet, she wanted it to not only reflect the experiences, struggles, and emotions that caregivers face but also to serve as a reminder of the caregiver community that has taken care of her while she took care of her son. That intention was transformed into an everyday reminder for those who give so much to others, yet often feel as if they have little left for themselves.
Military caregivers are often the silent heroes living among the military community. When they unexpectedly find themselves caring for their military hero, they can feel isolated, overwhelmed, and stressed. There are many amazing organizations that support and serve military caregivers, but I wanted to create a small token to remind these heroes that they are braver than they seem and stronger than they know.
The Meaning Behind the Caregiver Bracelet
As a caregiver, your devotion is unwavering, and you give so much of yourself to take care of the ones you love. You are the anchor of your family and a symbol of hope and steadfastness during the toughest storms. Wear the Caregiver Bracelet as your everyday reminder to keep hope alive, to also take time to take care of YOU, and to never give up, even on the toughest of days.
The trio of gemstones in this bracelet represents the heart and spirit of a caregiver. The meaning behind the stones encourages you to practice the same compassion with yourself as you show to others.
Lepidolite supports emotions and eases the stress and tension associated with change. It fosters a sense of hope and inspires you to look for the positive in whatever challenge you face.
Green Opal is a symbol of inner strength – reminding you to slow down and take time to nourish your own energy during emotional times.
A single Amazonite nugget represents you - the rock of your family and their source of comfort and stability. Amazonite helps balance the overwhelm, inspires compassion, and soothes worries and fears.
“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” — Bernice Johnson Reagon
DJ and Zach are a beacon of light within the Charliemadison Community. It’s not just DJ that wears and shares our bracelets, but Zach is a fan as well. In fact, his favorite bracelets are the essential oil diffuser bracelets that he wears daily so he can apply oils on the go to help with sleep and stress.
We continue to support and uplift DJ and Zach on their journey and we are so excited that DJ was awarded the 2021 Texas Mother of the Year through American Mothers, a national nonprofit that honors the service and sacrifice of mothers across the U.S.