Hinesville Police Department communications clerk Cheryl Hawkins is an avid gamer who can’t wait to reconnect with her online community and try this winter’s new releases.
But for Hawkins, the accomplishment will mean more than making a purchase — it will signify triumph over a mysterious medical condition that required two-thirds of most of her fingers and some of her toes to be amputated.
“I literally watched them die as I was in the hospital,” she said. “I was thinking, just, you know, I hope they can save something; I’m a gamer, and I was thinking, ‘I just want to game! And I want to get back to work!’”
The 30-year-old Hinesville resident has until April to return to work, but she said she’s determined to begin working a couple hours each day in January.
“With the drive that she’s had since this started until now, I don’t doubt that at all,” HPD Lt. Terranova Smith said. “I think she’s able to do it.”
Senior communications clerk Carolyn Canga, Hawkins’ direct supervisor, added: “Whatever she puts her mind to.”
The onset began as a cold, tingling feeling in her digits, which turned white and later blue.
Hawkins was admitted to Candler Hospital in Savannah on Aug. 13 and spent a week and a half there before being relocated to Memorial University Medical Center, where she stayed about three weeks. She later was moved to a rehabilitation unit at St. Joseph’s, where she stayed through mid-October.
She underwent four operations in an effort to save the digits, and each doctor she saw seemed to have a different theory about what caused her illness.
Hawkins currently is undergoing therapy and estimates she has regained about 75 percent of her functionality, but she’s expected to reach 100 percent, even if she’s a bit slow-moving.
The hardest part, she said, is relying on others for help. But she credits family, especially her mother, Lewis Frasier Middle School teacher Patricia Hawkins, her father, William Wilson of Jesup and her sister in New Jersey for their unwavering support.
Her co-workers and friends also rallied around her to ensure she had companionship, support and positive spirits, something she credits Canga, Smith and Sgt. Mike Gosseck for helping her maintain.
While Hawkins was in the hospital, Canga, Smith and Gosseck coordinated to make sure she had at least one visitor almost daily and a stream of snacks and magazines.
“We made it a point to get there as often as we could and just hang out with her,” Smith said.
“It was really nice getting visitors, and it really lifted up my spirits …,” Hawkins said. “I had to end up getting a Bluetooth because I couldn’t answer my phone, so the Bluetooth was able to help me because people were just calling, ‘Hawk! I heard you were in the hospital. How come nobody told us?’”
Hawkins recalled that her last day at work was Aug. 10. It was her birthday, and her supervisor sent her home.
“She came and she got her cake, and I’m like, ‘goodbye,’” Canga said. “That just shows the type of person that she is — she just has this personality and she always wants to be here for everybody, and she doesn’t want to let the shift down. She’s like family.”
The department also coordinated a breakfast fundraiser to benefit Hawkins, and her co-workers prepared the food.
Combined with an October golf tournament coordinated by the Jay Smiley Foundation at Cherokee Rose Golf and Country Club, the events raised more than $8,000.
“In a nutshell, Cheryl is just such a great person that when she started going through this, we started going through it with her,” Smith said. “And we basically just wanted to let her know that we were there for her for whatever she needed.”
Hawkins said the experience has taught her to enjoy life more.
“Now I just appreciate things a lot more,” she said. “I know it sounds really corny, … the small things now that I can do, I’m like “yes!” and I’ll call somebody up and say, “Hey! Guess what I just did — I put my shirt on by myself!”
Hawkins wants to share gratitude for everyone who’s supported her.
“It’s really heart-warming to realize that you have that many people who care about you at your place of employment — usually, you know, at work it’s just work,” Hawkins said. “It’s really nice to have that support.”