Paula's story

a photo of Paula Davis, standing beside her team of therapists

Florida native and devoted mother of four, Paula Davis, 58, works as an office administrator at the church she and her family attend. Paula strives to let her light shine through in every conversation she has with others, living by the idea that you should always treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Early in the year, Paula became troubled after experiencing several days of shortness of breath and painful urination. Having dealt with some health issues in the past, Paula knew that something was wrong, but tried to refrain from going to the hospital in hope that her symptoms would subside on their own. This would be a decision Paula would regret.

When it became clear that her symptoms were getting worse, Paula went to Memorial West Hospital where she was immediately given a COVID-19 test. Despite being fully vaccinated, Paula tested positive. A chest X-ray showed that she had developed pneumonia and her lungs were in bad shape. Paula was also found to have a urinary tract infection. The doctor who treated her in the hospital said the COVID-19 vaccine was a key factor in saving Paula’s life.

After a week in the hospital, Paula stabilized and was able to be moved to the next step in her recovery at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital. Upon arrival, she was reliant on the staff to move in bed, sit up, eat, use the bathroom and perform other personal care tasks.

Paula’s extreme weakness meant she had to be transferred in and out of bed using a mechanical lift device called a Hoyer lift. She recalls feeling lethargic, distracted and having trouble focusing and processing information. Paula was also suffering from oral dysphagia -- issues with using the mouth, lips and tongue to speak, eat or drink. Her condition left her unable to eat solid foods, so speech therapists placed her on a special soft food diet to ensure she could safely eat her meals without choking.

Paula’s physical and occupational therapy team assessed her needs and quickly got to work creating a treatment plan to help her regain strength, stamina and independence. The first goal of Paula’s physical therapists was to improve her mobility in bed so she could progress to sitting up in a wheelchair and become more active in therapy sessions. In time, she no longer required the Hoyer lift and was introduced a device called a “Sara Steady” to assist in standing and transferring out of bed more independently. 

Meanwhile, occupational therapists worked with Paula on breathing techniques to help keep her from feeling short of breath and to conserve her energy. Paula’s battle with COVID-19 had left her constantly fatigued, requiring her to take frequent and extended rest breaks. As more time passed, Paula became stronger and was able to sit up without assistance.

Paula’s nights were restless. One night, she reflected on her recovery journey and realized there was so much more she aspired to do. A devoted Christian, Paula turned to her faith to find strength. She began to pray, read scriptures and listen to her favorite gospel music. By sunrise, Paula described feeling mentally stronger and ready to face her challenges head on.

Therapists took advantage of Paula’s new found inspiration and began to push her to get out of bed by standing with assistance, a task that felt impossible only a few days prior. From that point, Paula progressed quickly. She became independent in eating her meals and transitioned to eating solid foods again.

Paula’s sense of motivation continued to grow and she began to set bigger goals for herself. She shared, “I want to walk again, increase my endurance and feel like myself again.” Paula knew she would be unable to achieve these goals on her own, so she developed a strong connection with her therapists, trusting them to guide her to her goals.

Therapists motivated Paula to push past her fears of standing and walking. Before long, she was standing for extended periods of time and starting to move using the assistance of parallel bars. There, she completed exercises that involved taking steps and shifting weight to practice for walking. After two weeks, Paula was able to get out of bed on her own by using her walker and could walk longer distances each day. Paula said that she finally felt as though she was regaining her independence and was extremely grateful.

Paula’s recreation therapists also found new ways to keep her mind active and mood boosted. She learned how to loom knit, which she enjoyed and was excited to share with her daughter. She was thrilled to have knit her own hat while in the hospital. This new skill improved Paula’s self-confidence and helped ease her anxiety.

In addition to the support Paula received from the staff at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital, she also had an abundance of love and support coming from her friends and family who were very involved in her recovery journey. When COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from visiting in-person, Paula’s friends and family showed their support by calling daily. Her “church family” and pastor also checked in with her on a daily basis.

As she prepared to return home, Paula said she was most looking forward to being with her family once again. She expressed that she was also looking forward to getting to the end of her rehabilitation so she could finally thank God for helping her make so much progress.

Paula is extremely grateful, sharing: “West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital is beautiful, but the workers are what makes it great.” When asked if she learned anything new about herself during rehabilitation, Paula described feeling as though she had a huge challenge set in front of her and with the help of prayer, she was able to overcome it. “I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to,” she said.

Having survived and recovered from COVID-19, Paula urges others to get vaccinated, since the vaccine ultimately saved her life. Additionally, Paula wants people going through recovery not to be afraid of doing therapy, saying, “The therapists are there to help with the rehabilitation journey. Recreational therapy keeps your mind active, occupational and physical therapy keep you on track to reaching your goals and speech therapy is there to help you with your food and communication. Be open with your therapists – they are there to help you.”