merittImagine waking up every morning to the dull pain of throbbing fingertips then being faced with the daunting task of deciding which one to prick first today. For nine grueling months, that was Meritt Hutchison’s story as she battled through gestational diabetes.

Hutchison started school at the University of Arkansas in 1998 as a pre-med major before transferring to UA Little Rock and graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration in management, marketing and finance in 2002. She is a member of the Arkansas Alumni Association and appreciates how actively the association is involved with charity.

“My favorite thing about being a member of the Alumni Association is that part of our membership dues goes towards scholarships,” she said. “I was on scholarship when I was a student and know that there are lots of people who need that help. Especially now, since it’s much more expensive.”

She has many favorite moments at the University of Arkansas and cherishes the memories of going to football games with her mother as a little girl. “I remember calling the Hogs and thinking that was just the greatest thing ever,” she said.

Now she and her husband, Aaron, have carried on the tradition by teaching their daughter, Stellen, 3, all about what it means to be a Razorback. “As soon as my little girl could learn how to talk were teaching her how to call the Hogs,” Hutchison said. “She tells us all the time that she’s a Razorback just like her daddy.”

Since her battle with diabetes three years ago, she has grown tremendously as a person and turned hard experiences into a way to help others. She is actively involved in the American Diabetes Association and is raising money for the 11th Annual Kiss-A-Pig Gala on March 9 in Rogers. Hutchison has been chosen as one of 11 candidates to compete for the chance to kiss a pig at the gala and to recognize it for producing the first source of insulin for people with diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is fairly common in the United States. It is estimated to affect nearly 20 percent of expecting mothers, according to recently announced diagnostic criteria for gestational diabetes.

Hutchison’s battle with the disease was difficult, especially since her motto in life is to “eat dessert first,” she said.

“I’ll eat healthy but am not beyond having dessert for breakfast so I was crushed that I couldn’t even eat ice cream or a piece of cake,” she said. “It really helped shape how I eat.”

Stellen was born without diabetes and Hutchison went back to normal after the birth. However, it is common for children and mothers to develop diabetes later in life. Hutchison is doing her best to prevent that by teaching her daughter how to eat right and live an active lifestyle.

“We go to the farmer’s market together and she thinks it’s fun to pick out her own vegetables,” Hutchison said. “She’ll get a cucumber and eat it like a popsicle.”

In honor of her mother, Holly Dabbs Whitcombe, who died a year ago from cancer, Hutchison donated 13 inches of her hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths and is in the process of creating a non-profit organization to fund a healing garden for cancer patients.

The garden will be in partnership with NWA’s leading Cancer Research Center, Highland Oncology in Rogers and is estimated to cost $5 million. Hutchison has been working with a dedicated team to create a non-profit to fund the endeavor. They hope to break ground in the spring.

The inspiration for the garden came from two years of battling cancer with her mother and finding peace from the constant onslaught of trials in only one place—the Nasher Sculpute Center in Dallas, a garden that the pair would visit regularly on their way to treatment in Houston.

“For two years of therapy with my mom, that garden was my escape,” Hutchison said. “It was the only place we could find peace.”

Hutchison said plans for her garden in Rogers have just fallen into her lap.

“I never thought I would be involved in something like this, but everything has happened so quickly and easily,” Hutchison said. “I really think my mother is helping out from above.”