What started off as a relaxing post-retirement San Francisco vacation turned into a much different adventure for Paula Gault.
The former Forsyth County Schools superintendent spent eight days in a hospital and 15 days in a rehabilitation center recuperating from a paralyzing stroke she had on the flight to California.
After a weeklong recreational vehicle trip across the country with her two brothers, Jack and Sam Heard, Gault arrived at her north Forsyth home Friday afternoon.
“I am just so excited to be home. I’m just thrilled,” she said shortly after her arrival. “It was quite an experience with some scary times. But I am just so blessed to have such wonderful friends and family who have been thinking of me and praying for me.”
Gault stepped foot in her own home, after hugging her grandchildren, and greeting her children and closest friends.
“We all cried,” said longtime friend Judi Jenkins. “She was just so thankful to be there, it was just a beautiful, touching moment ... it was just a big family reunion.”
Only a month ago Gault was worried she may never be able to walk again.
“Just a couple of days ago, I moved my toes on my left foot for the first time,” she said. “It’s incremental and that doesn’t sound like a really big deal. But if you’ve read you’re never going to move your toes again, it means so much.”
Though Gault has had two other episodes while flying, including a minor stroke, she has also had many successful flights. But after this last experience, “I will never get on another plane,” she said.
“I absolutely love traveling, but there are a lot of wonderful places in the U.S. and Canada. And I’ll be sticking to those from now on,” she said.
“There were some things on that trip that I’ve not given up on seeing yet, so I’ll get back to California one of these days. But it will be in an automobile.”
After the stroke, Gault lost function in the left side of her body and most of her vision. Though her vision came back within a few days, regaining use of her left leg and arm has been a slow process.
“I’m on a walker and I used a wheelchair some when I had to. But the last couple of days have been primarily on the walker,” she said Friday.
“I’m looking forward to continuing my therapy here at home and as an outpatient and just getting back to all the things I was doing. I love my gardening and to be back here in this spot again is just wonderful.”
To get back home, Gault’s brothers rented an RV and started their journey Sept. 19.
Gault’s daughter Kristin Martin met her mom at the beginning of the trip and together they drove to Yosemite National Park, Sparks, Nev., Rock Springs, Wyo., on to Utah and then to Denver on Sept. 22.
In Denver, Martin flew home and Gault’s other daughter, Kelly Story, took her place, traveling through Kansas City, St. Louis, northern Illinois, Kentucky and spending the night of Sept. 25 just outside Nashville.
“We had a lot of good times and laughs and also watched mom’s progress. She’s made even greater strides since she’s left rehab,” said Martin. “It was emotional for all of us, especially when she stepped off the RV.”
While friends and family came to visit her in California, Gault’s husband Robert Hughes has not left her side.
“My husband has just been a rock,” said Gault. “He went through some very scary times in the beginning.”
Martin said Hughes is ready to face the challenges of in-home rehabilitation.
“He’s already got the walkie-talkie set up so that he can have close contact with her at all times around the house,” she said.
Gault is eager to get back to therapy and has set a goal of cooking her traditional Thanksgiving lunch for 30 friends and family members as she has every year.
Though she wouldn’t want to go through it again, the experience, said Gault, has strengthened her faith and “helps you be even more appreciative of the wonderful friends and family members that surround you and love you and support you.”
“We’re just so thankful for all the prayers. At times like this, you really realize how important your faith is.