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(CBS) – In the last year, she’s sent out more than 15,000 donated cards, trying to spread some good cheer to children facing illness.

Jen Rubino is someone you should know, CBS 2’s Harry Porterfield reports.

As a child growing, Jen had one fascination that dominated her life: being a gymnast.

“I was hoping to one day make the Olympic team and to possibly even have it as my career, as a coach,” she says.

But at age 11, she began to be troubled by pains in her wrists and elsewhere. Doctors said it was a connective tissue disorder.

“I was told that I would never be able to do gymnastics again and I had to start having surgery,” she says.

Now 18, she has had 23 surgeries.

“Sitting around and feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to get me anywhere, so during that time I received a card and a blanket from a hospital volunteer, and it really helped me through my hardest recovery,” Jen says.

“I wanted to be able to do that for other kids who are in similar situations,” she adds.

One year ago this month, she founded Cards for Hospitalized Kids. It is now 15,000 cards later.  The tide of correspondence that began when she starting handing out cards at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

The cards are shipped to children’s hospitals in all 50 states. There, hospital personnel distribute the cards to the patients.

“It’s certainly been a journey,” Jen’s father, Mike Rubino, says. “I was really impressed with the way she was able to handle it. It was loss after loss, but every time a loss came along she’d find something else to replace it with.”

“The response has been absolutely incredible,” Jen says. “We see time and time again that the cards just lift up the spirits of the patients and really help them during the hardest time of their life.”

To learn more about Jen’s efforts and how to donate hand-made cards, click here.

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