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'I'VE GOT YOUR BACK!' | Michigan pair turns trauma into business venture

Jennifer Fillenworth and Paula Reed met when Paula helped put Jennifer's broken back, back together. They later reconnected and started a business.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Ordinary people sometimes have extraordinary meetings. 

That's what happened for two West Michigan women whose first meeting involved a broken back. Their second meeting happened to lead to having each other's backs.

On November 2, 2019, Jennifer Fillenworth and her husband were travelling up to Frankfort for a weekend getaway. The drive from Grand Rapids to Big Rapids was perfectly fine, but as they continued further north, the road started getting treacherous.

"Sleet, ice and rain became an issue," said Jennifer, 30. "We were on US-131 when we started hydroplaning and our vehicle went off the road and hit several trees."

Jennifer's husband was fine, but she wasn't. She'd suffered multiple injuries, including a spinal fracture, broken left tibia, four broken ribs, a bowel laceration and a dissection of her carotid artery.

Credit: Jennifer Fillenworth
Jennifer Fillenworth broke her back in a car accident in Nov. 2019. She'd recover and go into business with the neurophysioligist who worked on her.
Credit: Jennifer Fillenworth
Jennifer Fillenworth endured two surgeries. The second surgery was on her broken lower back, which required 6 pins and 2 rods to put back into place.
Credit: Jennifer Fillenworth
Jennifer Fillenworth and her husband were traveling in northern Michigan in November 2019 when their car slid on ice and crashed into several trees.

"I was loaded into an ambulance and was brought back to Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids," Jennifer recalls. "Within three hours, I was undergoing my first of two surgeries."

Jennifer's second surgery happened a couple days later when doctors repaired her back.

"I think I have six pins and a couple rods in there," Jennifer said.

Jennifer was released from the hospital a few days later and then began what ended up being three months of rehabilitation, and during that time, wasn't able to work.

Jennifer a personal chef, who owns and operates her own business called Jenny With Good Eats

"I was constantly shopping, cooking, prepping and lifting," said Jennifer. "Fortunately, I have many friends in the business who were able to step in and help me with my scheduled events."

In February 2020, through a mutual friend, Jennifer met Paula Reed, who also had a passion for the culinary arts and happened to own Amethyst Bee Cakery in Rockford. 

The pair hit it off from the start.

"I became a big fan of her right away because she's a chef and her food's awesome," said Paula, 34. "I basically begged her to come into my shop and check it out."

Jennifer and Paula quickly became close friends, and as their conversations continued, they started to learn that they had met before.

The circumstances then were far different.

When Paula isn't putting together pastries, she's a neurophysiologist for NuVasive Clinical Services. 

"I'm basically an extra set of eyes for the surgeons during spine surgeries," said Paula. "I am involved in around 500 cases each year."

One of the 500 happened to be Jennifer's back fusion last November.

"When [Jennifer] told me which surgeon did her procedure, I knew I had worked on her because that's my primary surgeon," said Paula.

"Once we put all the pieces together, the first thing I said to Paula was, 'I guess we're really close because you've seen my spine," Jennifer joked. "It ended up being one of those mind-blowing things."

Since February, the pair has been collaborating on new business ventures and ideas, utilizing their vast culinary experience.

"Paula and I started dreaming up a pop-up concept where we didn't have to have an actual restaurant," said Jennifer. "We'd do it every 3 or 4 weeks and each one would be a completely different concept."

Their first event together is called Breakfast Mavens on Saturday, Aug. 8. 

"Last November, I had her back and now she has mine," said Paula. "She's been a major help in getting my business moved from Rockford to Eastown.

"I'm so excited to continue to partner with Jennifer going forward and bring awesome foods to the community."

"I found one of my soulmates through a traumatic car accident," added Jennifer.

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