Former Patient Gives Back to the Hospital That Helped Him
Robin Chism discovers a talent for jewelry making and a heart for giving back to Shepherd Center.
In 2007, Robin Chism had what he calls a “recalibration” of his life. He had spent his entire career in the fashion jewelry industry, working with famous designers such as Liz Claiborne, Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein. He traveled the world, had a nice car and a comfortable life.
But in January 2007, he found himself lying in a hospital bed at Atlanta’s Northside Hospital, completely paralyzed and gravely ill. The thought running through his head was: “I can’t die yet. I haven’t done enough.”
“It was a wake-up call for me about what is important in life,” Robin says.
Robin was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, leading to paralysis.
This disease – and his subsequent recovery – led to a life-altering decision. He had to do something for the greater good.
“I decided that what I did when I got better – with whatever energy I had – would, in part, be to help people,” Robin says.
After two and a half months at Northside, he was transferred to Shepherd Center to begin his rehabilitation.
“When I got there, I had some movement, but I still had a long way to go,” Robin recalls.
During his six weeks at Shepherd Center, Robin gained his strength and began using a wheelchair, and then a walker. As part of his therapy, he went to the art room. There, he learned a skill that would reboot his life and fulfill his mission of wanting to give back.
He made jewelry.
“I was trying to figure out how to take my experience and talent and turn it into something where I could support myself while also giving back, ” Robin says.
Having already decided not to return to the fashion industry, Robin decided instead to focus his efforts on designing and making jewelry from semi-precious stones, giving a percentage of the sales to hospitals. He turned a bedroom in his house into an art studio, and Robin Gerard Designs (Gerard is his middle name) was born. His first show was at Shepherd Center.
Now, he sells his one-of-a-kind necklaces, earrings and bracelets, which he describes as “color driven,” at quarterly shows in 35 hospitals throughout Georgia. Shepherd Center is always his first priority: He books those dates first.
The money he donates to Shepherd Center goes back into the program that gave him his start – art therapy, which is part of Shepherd Center's expansive recreation therapy program.
“Robin has been a wonderful supporter of our art therapy program and is just a fantastic human being, in general,” says Phoebe Whisnant, MA, ATR, one of the art therapists at Shepherd Center. “Proceeds from his jewelry sales have helped us take patients to the Fox Theatre for shows, purchase a digital SLR camera, build a thriving ceramics program and much more.”
Robin still experiences fatigue and pain as the result of the disease, but he finds his jewelry business gives him the flexibility to work around it.
“I plan out the shows so I have recovery time and can build in time to rest and relax,” Robin says.
Now – eight years later – he is happy, busy, fulfilled and giving back to hospitals as a tribute to those who saved his life. He credits Shepherd Center with everything.
“Shepherd Center was my bridge back to life,” Robin says. “They took care of me mentally, physically and spiritually. You need all three to walk or roll back into life.”
Written by Sara Baxter
Photos by Gary Meek
In the media
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.