A new lease on life
Meet Dr. Jacob Gayle. His inspiring journey of physical and spiritual transformation leads us into Holy Week — when, as a Christian ministry, we reflect on Christ's passion and celebrate his resurrection.
Both a former resident of Folkestone
(Wayzata, MN) and a guest of Interlude Restorative Suites™
(Plymouth, MN), Jacob shared his story with Presbyterian Homes & Services. (Pictured right: Jacob, center, with sons and grandsons.)
Jacob began, “At 17 years old, I had my first spinal fusion surgery due to idiopathic scoliosis. Forty years later,” he continued, “I needed revision surgeries to correct problems of spinal stenosis” and reflected, “After living and working on six continents, carrying sons and nephews on my back and living out my professional dreams as a global health detective-diplomat
and my alter-ego athletic fantasy as a heavy weight lifter … it wasn’t surprising that a bit of correction might be needed.
“Once released from my post-op restrictions, I quickly returned to my former routines, except for trading out sons and nephews for grandsons and great nieces and nephews in my role as horsey. Things were so great that I decided to commit myself to being in the best shape ever by age 60.
“Who knew that, instead, I would be learning how to use a wheelchair on my 60th birthday, at Interlude Plymouth?"
“A month later, in December 2018,” Jacob recalled, “I arrived at Folkestone for a three-month stay while my wife searched for a new house for us that would accommodate wheelchair living. ‘Three months’ turned into almost two and a half years. Remember ‘Gilligan’s Island’? If not, Google it sometime.”
Reflecting on his sudden losses, Jacob said, “It was devastating to really see my abilities and, in some ways, my life slipping away without any ability to control it.”
A defining moment
Yet he remembers a defining moment. “When I first got there, I can remember saying, ‘It’s just hard to believe I’m here at Folkestone. I mean, who would have ever imagined that I would be living in a place like this?’”
That’s when he says a resident named Faye turned and replied, “You know what? We all have that in common. None of us would have imagined that we were going to live in a place like this. But, aren’t we thankful that God provided a place like this when we needed it?”
“That started me on a journey,” Jacob recalls. “I said, ‘You know, Faye, you’re absolutely right. You know what? I’m no different from anybody here. Let me better understand who you are. And see how it applies to who I am.’”
From that point on, Jacob settled in and grew to love the Folkestone community. “Both residents and employees “opened their hearts and lives to me,” he said, “encouraging me through some of the highest and lowest points of my human experience.”
Jacob admits, “I used to think that people who live in communities like this have probably resigned themselves to waiting for the final day and are not really very active or engaged.” But soon he realized, “I found that to be absolutely NOT the case at Folkestone! Whether we’re talking residents in independent living or assisted living, people are quite active, quite engaged … both inside of Folkestone as well as outside of Folkestone.”
Boasting, he said, “I have learned so much from friends who shared their 100, 90, 80 years of lessons learned with me, the youngster!”
Jacob spoke with fondness of 99-year-old Harlan. Jacob says the two met in the therapy gym at the care center. “Harlan at that time was riding one mile a day on the Nustep to reach the 100-mile mark,” Jacob explained. “We struck up a conversation and we both realized wow!
We can have an engaging conversation about world news and domestic issues. Gee, I think we’re supposed to be in each other’s lives right now.”
“So every day we would meet in the exercise room,” Jacob continued. “Then eventually we decided, ‘You know what? Every Sunday at 11 a.m., let’s get together – sit either out on the patio or near the aquarium – and bring our newspapers and share about current events. How do they relate to experiences of life in the past? And what do we want to tell our grandchildren – and in Harlan’s case, great-grandchildren – about the period in which we lived?”
Jacob trailed off, “Harlan and I – we’ve seen each other through thick and thin, yeah, yeah…”
Watch as Jacob stands to his feet during occupational therapy at Folkestone:
‘Wow, another day! Thanks, Lord!’
Jacob also spent time alone reflecting and remembered thinking, “I made a commitment to be in the best shape and now I’m actually falling apart.”
During what he described as a “great strengthening, learning experience,” he realized, “I took a lot of pride in the physical side of who I am,” concluding, “Let’s really look at the words I say and the reality of my heart.”
“I think that through this I was learning what our faith is really about,” he continued.
“That our faith is not only to celebrate the good times but to bring us through the challenging times. To teach us patience and love. And to truly recognize that I just worship God for every single day that I have. When I wake up in the morning, I say, 'Wow! Another day! Thanks, Lord, for another opportunity.'"
Fulfilling a lifelong dream
His highest point came when he fulfilled a lifelong dream trip to Antarctica – his “final continent to experience.”
“Ever since I was 30 or so, I had been planning to travel to Antarctica,” Jacob explained. “I had so many reasons why. One – having lived or worked on six continents – I always said that if you ever heard that I went off to Antarctica, you would know, Wow, he finally took a trip purely for vacation!”
"Every decade, my wife and I planned the trip, yet either the kids were too young or too involved in their sports or in college or …” he trailed off. “It was always something that got pushed off for another decade.”
“Well for my 60th
birthday celebration, we had finally started planning the trip. And that’s when, in December 2018, I ended up in a wheelchair. And I just assumed that, Well, I guess, I’ll never make it to Antarctica now.
“But in February 2019 I decided, You know? I’m still going on.”
Laughter spilled out as Jacob recalled those first reactions from fellow residents and staff at Folkestone. “They were looking at me like, ‘This man is crazy. He’s packing up to go to Antarctica, and he says he’ll be back in 2-1/2 weeks!’”
After their initial astonishment, Jacob noted, “They were really so, so supportive. It became like a community effort.”
“Traveling to Antarctica was definitely one of my highs,” he reflected. “It was wonderful to reach a lifelong goal and to realize that nothing had to stop me from reaching it.
“And to do it as Folkestone resident!” he laughs.
Finding inspiration in community
Upon his return, Folkestone staff invited him to share an audiovisual presentation with the community. “They were so receptive,” Jacob said. “So I came back and shared the experience with my Folkestone neighbors. Danessa, the Life Enrichment Director, said they had never had a presentation like this to bring so many people together across Folkestone.”
“It was really great to be able to share it and to try to also inspire people to live their dreams – to do whatever you can. Don’t let things stop you. You might have to, in one way or another, re-plan it or reconstruct it somehow, but life has got to on. And you’ve got to have those goals.”
Day of discharge, gratitude and staying connected
Jacob’s final day as a resident of Folkestone came in February 2021. “Jacob is very much loved here,” says Patti Ecklund, Housing Counselor. “The day he discharged from the care center, our leaders and care center teammates were in the lobby, waiting for him to come down the elevator.
“When the door opened, we all clapped,” Patti said. “He was so touched, he cried and said for the first time in his life, he was speechless.”
Several days later, Jacob surprised them
— with 12 dozen Glam Doll Donuts
on Valentine’s Day!
Jacob reflected, “Now I really can understand how communities like this become your family. To know that in the hardest times of my life, Folkestone was there and always made me feel like I was gonna make it. They helped me be able to make it and I’ll forever feel indebted and grateful to them."
“Thank you, Folkestone,” Jacob concluded. “I truly know that I AM in the best shape ever: as a wholistic being who is ready for the next era of challenges and opportunities, thanks to your caring support. I am comforted in knowing that I remain a community member, even if I am just away for a twenty-year excursion in-between! Save a lakefront apartment for me!"😄