She treats patients like fragile glass

Arin Suttice knows a little something about patient care. She was exposed to healthcare as a teenager. She also knows something about delicate glass. When she ends her day at IU Health, she spends her spare time creating beautiful etchings.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes

One of the first signs of Arin Suttice’s interest in healthcare isn’t the navy blue uniform she wears or the badge hanging from her collar. It’s the necklace that has not one but three ribbons – all symbolizing cancer.

There are two white ribbon charms – signifying lung cancer and one purple charm signifying pancreatic cancer.

“I never take this off. It goes with me everywhere” That “everywhere” includes patient rooms where she looks eye to eye with those who are struggling with their own health challenges. Suttice was 15 when she lost her mother, Andrea Suttice, to lung cancer. Her godmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and last year, her father Lester Weaver, Sr. was diagnosed with lung cancer.

All three have played a role in her career in healthcare.

By the age of 16 she began volunteer work at various healthcare facilities – including IU Health Riley Hospital for Children. She graduated from the health professionals magnet program at Crispus Attucks High School and worked as a CNA and a medical assistant for a time.

At 19 she landed a hospital job transporting young patients.

“Since about the age of five I said I wanted to be a pediatrician. I knew I wanted to help people,” said Suttice, one of five children. “I can’t stand to see kids hurting so I knew pediatrics wasn’t for me.”

But still she had the itch to serve in healthcare.

Eleven years ago she began working at IU Health as nutrition services representative. The job takes her to the bedside of patients where she helps order their meals; deliver their trays, and works closely with dietitians to educate patients about proper diet and nutrition.

“Nutrition and diet are a big part of the healing process. You can be pumped full of meds but if you aren’t supported by adequate nutrition you won’t go anywhere,” said Suttice.

She takes her job seriously and focuses on treating each patient as an individual.

As she recently visited the room of Michelle Jones, who received a liver transplant, Suttice greeted her with the nickname “Michie.” Jones has been hospitalized more than once and Suttice jokes that she doesn’t need to keep coming back to visit her. She nicknamed another patient “banana” because she knows that she wants a banana with her meals. Sometimes, Suttice can complete the order before the patient tells her what they want.

Working on the transplant unit she often sees patients before, during and after their transplants. Over the years she has established strong ties with many of the patients and has even visited them at their homes after they are discharged.

“I have patients who come back and if they don’t see me they’ll ask ‘is Arin here?’ I take the time to talk to my patients. I go on first name basis after I get to know them because I want them to know that I am genuinely interested in them,” said Suttice, the mother of Jo’el Neville, 16. She also raised her goddaughter Shanice Caldwell, 27.

“I was brought up by a mother who worked in healthcare and I learned early on about caring and nurturing for others. I treat every patient like it’s my mother, son, brother, sister and I can always spend an extra five minutes with them.”

Her commitment earned her a “Shining Star” Award recognizing her efforts to go above and beyond.

One of her long-time memories is a testimony to Suttice’s connection to those in her care. When one of her patients passed, the family reached out to Suttice and asked her to design an urn.

“It was a very personal thing and I was touched that they asked. I’d seen the patient on a daily basis and we were close,” said Suttice. The urn was made of glass and Suttice etched a personal message requested by the family.

The etching was an art she learned from her late grandmother

Deloris Johnson, affectionately known as “GG.”

“She went back to school at the age of 62 to get her GED and by the time she passed at the age of 89 she had numerous degrees,” said Suttice. Her grandmother was a creative and resourceful woman who taught Suttice much about life.

“When we were growing up the five of us spent every summer with her and every summer she gave us a project. One summer we learned to sew; one summer we learned about formal dining and catering and one summer we learned to etch glass,” said Suttice. At the end of summer each child presented a project on what they had learned. By the end of the summer of etched glass lessons, Suttice made a windowpane for her church. She was seven at the time.

The craft took a backseat for a bit while Suttice was growing up, pursuing her career and raising her family. Then about 10 years ago she picked it back up – named her line, “Lady of Legacy” and has been hand-etching glass keepsakes for birthdays, graduations, and other milestone occasions. She recently produced 120 wine glasses for her 20-year class reunion. She’s also created one-of-a-kind mirrors and glasses for pageants, birth announcements, weddings, and pastor installation ceremonies. Each piece is hand etched and can take a couple of hours from start to finish.

One of the largest pieces she recently completed was part of the second annual CompletLife Art Show at IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

The piece was titled: “Tell me what you See.” Suttice inscribed a poem on the large glass piece and said, “The words of the poem should cause every person reading it to imagine, to be inspired and to reflect.” The source of her inspiration was her mother.

“My art like my patients is a labor of love,” said Suttice. “I put a lot of myself into both because I want there to be meaning – especially in the lives of others.”