A car crash that left Welcome Bay's Tina Jennen with four broken limbs and a year of intensive rehabilitation hasn't slowed her drive to give back to the community or take on the challenge of a new job in 2018.
Jennen was in a head-on collision on State Highway 2 last January 10th. On the same date this year , she visited Ward 4b at Tauranga Hospital where she spent four weeks recovering following the crash. The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend tagged along as Jennen, on crutches after surgery to repair a crushed right ankle in October, walked the hospital halls and delivered 65 gift vouchers to staff on the orthopaedic ward.
Clinical nurse manager Ross Turner is pleased with his former patient's progress after such a traumatic accident.
"While she's still on the road to recovery, it's nice to see her doing so well. For her to come back and share her story with us ... we don't see that very often. The acknowledgement with the vouchers is … a very kind gesture and one that's not taken for granted."
Jennen's healing involved not just medical attention and visits from family and friends, but also business.
She continued staff meetings and mentoring young entrepreneurs while in hospital, holding a workshop on the rooftop garden.
That's where we spoke while sitting on a bench, bathed in sunshine and birdsong.
Jennen said the accident threw her into crisis and forced her to find better balance, but it didn't dim her entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
"My brain doesn't really shut off and I felt so fortunate that as much as I had literally a cast on every limb, my brain was working just fine."
The 45-year-old has had three sessions of surgery in the past year.
"To have been unexpectedly thrown into a difficult situation and have an outpouring of community support reminded me how important it is to grow and support people."
Doctors have removed a metal plate from Jennen's right arm, which bears a long, red scar. She still has metal in her right ankle.
She wasn't looking for work, but Jennen said after being approached about the position at NZ Manuka Group as chief financial officer, the idea took hold.
"It's so at the heart of everything I believe in and they are very much about the people and about taking care of the land ... Everyone benefits from the work, and to me that is the only sustainable way that we can grow as a society."
She started her new job on Thursday in Awakeri (near Whakatane), about an hour's commute from home. It's a longer drive than the one she made to Eurofins in Katikati, the business she was working for at the time of her crash.
Jennen will continue rehab, rebuilding core strength through swimming, cycling and yoga.
She has an exercise bicycle in her new office for pedalling breaks. And though no more surgeries were planned, she said her injuries would one day require further intervention.
Back on ward 4b, Jennen gets teary while sharing hugs and a laugh with Turner and clinical nurse manager Jeanette Chisam.
They reminisce about the volume of visitors and flowers she received and about the fact her laptop was always as close as her call button.
"I know I brought some chaos in during my stay," says Jennen. She hugs a woman pushing a large food cart.
Her month in hospital helped further shape personal and professional goals – she's close to her four children (aged 12 to 18), and partner; she'll continue helping young entrepreneurs; and she plans to build upon her MBA degree to become a chartered accountant.
"It brings me so much joy to work on projects and to add value and to find ways to make our lives better … the things we do in this world that have purpose and meaning are all about the people."
The sweet return to work
Tina Jennen's new employer, New Zealand Manuka Group, has its honey packing plant and corporate offices in Awakeri.
Manuka oil, honey extraction, agar and bio-actives production from seaweed are handled in Opotiki.
The company has collaborative arrangements with beekeepers, harvesters, employees and landowners that sees 35 per cent of honey revenues returned to landowners.
Chief executive Karl Gradon said the company's Maungaroa Station Plantation was the largest manuka plantation in the country with more than 4,000,000 trees.
Honey is harvested not just for food but also for clinical and health applications for use in treatments such as burn wound care.
"We've just acquired a beverages company to move honey further up the value chain. There are great opportunities, not just for honey in a jar, but to make as many derivatives as we can from the product itself," said Gradon.
The company is focused on growing in the UK and US markets.